Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the LEGO® product range mostly consists of houses and vehicles, but no figures exist to inhabit and drive them. However, LEGO Group management is more than willing to add an extra dimension to the LEGO universe by introducing role play in the form of a LEGO figure.
The LEGO building figure
The result in 1974 is the LEGO building figure. It has a round, yellow head with decorated facial features, movable arms, and torso and legs made of LEGO bricks. The figure is a great success, and set no. 200 in particular, a LEGO building figure family, sells very well. The set comprises a mother, father, children and grandmother. Thanks to the sales success of the LEGO building figure, production capacity is increased and now includes working on public holidays.
Although the LEGO building figure is popular, there is a general desire to produce a figure more on a scale with the LEGO brick. To accommodate this, a development process, headed by designer Jens Nygård Knudsen, kicks off to design a smaller LEGO figure. The result emerges in 1975, a modest figure four LEGO bricks tall with a faceless round yellow head and torso with contours of arms and legs. The figure can be placed on any other LEGO element, but it cannot grip anything and cannot “walk”. Internally, it earns itself the nicknames of “The Extra” or “The Salt Pillar”.
The LEGO minifigure
After launching “The Extra”, Jens Nygård Knudsen does more work on his design of a new LEGO figure. He wants to create a figure with more life. Part of his solution is to design a figure with movable arms and legs. Management hears about the new figure and orders it into production. It launches in 1978 under the name: LEGO minifigure. The LEGO minifigure has no obvious ethnicity, and all differentiation, including determining the character’s gender, is achieved through its clothing and accessories. The idea is to make the minifigure as broadly generic as possible. The minifigure becomes a huge hit. In fact, so much so that at the end of 2018, the year of its 40th anniversary, the number of total minifigures produced reaches 7,8 billion. The success is easy to understand; The minifigure brings life and roleplay to the LEGO brick and being four LEGO bricks tall, without hair or headpiece, it fits perfectly with the LEGO System in Play.
Over the years the minifigure has become more diverse - introducing different facial expressions and minifigures with natural skin tone also start to appear, to name a few. However, the overall idea is still the same today as it was in 1978 – the minifigure let children create, use their imagination and be anyone they want.