An Interview with a Designer
Thursday, June 26th, 2014 at 9:21pm by Andrew, BZPower News Manager
[Source: Jamie Berard]
Last month at BrickFair New England I sat down with Jamie Berard, a set designer from LEGO that you may have seen in some of the set reveal videos we've posted in the past. He agreed to answer some questions for BZPower, which I paraphrased and transcribed as fast as I could type. I learned a lot of cool things about the role designers play and some interesting information about Jamie's background too. If you'd like to see what makes one of the better-known set designers tick, read on!
All answers are paraphrased and not the exact words of Jamie Berard.
What is your job title at LEGO? What exactly does that mean you do?
Designer Manager Specialist for Creator Expert
I am responsible for the assortment we do for the AFOL models and oversee the other designers that are building the models for adult fans.
How long have you been playing with LEGO bricks? Were you an AFOL before you joined the company?
I've been a lifelong fan, no dark ages, probably since I was about five or six.
How did you get your job? What experience did you have that helped?
I got my job at BrickFest 2005; I spent the weekend talking with LEGO Employees that were there. I was offered a three-month internship, after that I got the job. It was primarily based on creations I displayed at the event and MOCs I had posted online.
What suggestions do you have for people interested in becoming set designers?
It's more competitive than ever - we often ask for a design degree or a degree that requires problem solving and critical thinking. Definitely try to stand out from the crowd and show personality, go outside of your comfort zone, and accept critical input.
What are some sets that you have designed? Any favorites?
I designed some modular buildings such as Cafe Corner, also the Horizon Express, Emerald Night, Winter Toy Shop, and the Tower Bridge.
I've also done concept work for some play themes such as Olivia's House and some Creator three-in-one sets.
What is your favorite set or theme that you had no part in designing?
I love the Technic crane that's out right now; it's one of the best Technic models that's out now.
What do you love about the LEGO fan community?
I love the creativity and high standards, I like the fact that they expect more of us and I try to deliver. They know what's good and it keeps us on top of our game!
Lin: Unikitty of Arendelle: Do you ever get the urge to take a set and just redesign and revamp it to ridiculous proportions?
We have done that with the Sopwith Camel, 3451 to 10226. Behind the scenes, I did a $100 and $200 version of Cafe Corner; sometimes we make an extreme version and then scale it back to fit the price point.
Paleo: Can we expect to see a large resurgence of functions in LEGO sets due to the large number in Chima?
I wouldn't say a resurgence. Functions are hard to communicate if you have too many, we try to do one or two really well rather than a lot.
Bfahome: Do you design/build for fun, as well as for a job? Do the two ever overlap?
I build sets for fun but don't often design for fun. I spend all my creative effort at work, so I like to be spoon fed at home.
DeeVee: Why is everything you do so absolutely perfect?
I'm not sure I agree with that but I like the compliment; there's a great team that offers comments to help make every set great!
Octodad: Have you ever had to make a hard decision that you knew would have backlash, like the choice that killed teal?
I think one of the more difficult roles is as an element ambassador we have an option to change and improve elements, sometimes out of necessity. There are some elements that fans are emotionally attached to, so it's hard to make the change, but we try to minimize the impact to the community.
Aanchir: Rachira of Time: Was there ever a time when you really had to push to get your coworkers and higher-ups to agree with an idea of yours?
I don't know if it's difficult, sometimes it just takes time. The Emerald Night was an example where we needed a new train wheel, so I had to be extra convincing. Generally though, my colleagues are responsive to our needs.
danny316p: You're listed in the end credits of The LEGO Movie. What, exactly, was your role in the film?
That was an unexpected treat! I worked on the concept phase and the garbage truck that you see for two seconds. Several buildings are based on the modular buildings. I hope I represent several people.
What was your role in the sets released for the LEGO Movie?
Just the garbage truck that I could claim some of, but someone else had to finish it.
Where does that theatrical credit put you in relation to the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"? What was your Bacon number before the film?
I have no idea, haha!
You've taken credit for design work on 10231 Shuttle Expedition, a set which was technically an enhanced rerelease of an earlier set. Did you have a role in the Shuttle Adventure kit as well, or were you only involved with making the new model sturdier?
I would say my role was primarily making the model more playable for a wider audience.
Because he's already gotten to the colors he's mentioned in the past: Is there a rare LEGO color you'd like to use (or see used) in a future set?
Before working for LEGO, you worked on the Millyard Project. How did you get involved with it? Did you design any of it? What parts of it did you build? How does the experience compare with working at LEGO? Have you had a chance to visit the model more recently? Based on your experience as a LEGO set designer, is there anything in the Millyard Project that you would do differently today?
I was one of the foremen on the project, but I followed the masterful direction of Eric Varszegi and Steve Gerling. It was great being able to work with others and help people find things they could work on.
Do you ever build (for yourself or for the company) with constraction elements?
Yes, Sydney Opera House has them; they're wonderful to create compound angles that hold.
It seems like you've been attending more conventions since 2013 than you did in the years before that. Are you planning on attending more conventions per year going forward? Which ones?
I don't know that I would do more than I'm doing now. Some of it is opportunistic and some is strategic - I need to be close to the fans to understand what they want.
There are very many stickers involved in building 10241 Maersk Triple E - have you applied all of the stickers yourself? How long did it take you?
Yes, that is unfortunately a necessity; due to legal reasons we are unable to print the Maersk logo on bricks. It took an hour. So sorry!
Any final thoughts?
It's awesome to know that constraction fans are not just looking at Bionicle and Hero Factory models. The fact that you guys are interested in Creator Expert and other brick-based themes just shows how connected we all are as fans. It's so cool!
A huge thanks goes out to Jamie for agreeing to the interview and a somewhat awesome thanks to Kevin Hinkle for helping to organize it. I hope you all had as much fun reading it as I did putting it together. If you'd like to see more interviews like this, let us know in the Talkback!
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