Stay connected to the child in you

Jakob Liesenfeld, design manager at Lego, doesn’t believe that new technology is the solution to everything. He’s convinced that personal networks and empathy will shape the future of work.

“Stay connected to the child in you, and spend as much time as possible playing,” Jakob Liesenfeld advises during two workshops. The designer doesn’t only say this because he has been working as creative lead and design manager with Lego for eight years. For him, playing is an important source of creativity and learning. “When you watch children play, you notice they don’t get tired. You don’t have to force them to learn. They simply enjoy it! We adults have unlearnt this over the years.”

With his head brimming with new ideas but still relaxed and precise, the 35-year-old is sitting in the kitchen of the USM WorkHouse on the final evening of the second PlayLab. He’s wearing a chic pair of golden Mykita glasses – he is a designer, after all. Stay playful, keep your humanity, and foster empathy and personal connections. Liesenfeld believes that such values will become more and more important in the future. Particularly in a job market that – as a result of AI and Industry 4.0 – is going to provide jobs for a decreasing number of people – including for creatives like him. “There is a tendency to look at the future from a primarily technological angle. This is the American, practical angle. As if new technology were the solution to everything. I see things differently. Even though I’m a huge sci-fi fan.”

His appreciation for the personal is also what brought Liesenfeld to Lego in 2009, after finishing his studies in communication design at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Back then, the Danish company was in the process of developing its rather neutral playing figures into independent personalities. They introduced their so-called “blind packs”. “I thought: wow, Lego has finally realised that they have a really amazing character design. Everything that a Simpsons character can be, a Lego character can be as well.”

During the golden age of Lego, Liesenfeld joined his team as one of two foreign employees, and was quickly promoted to the position of design manager. For the last two years, he has been working as creative lead on the Star Wars project. “It was a fantastic twist of fate that I got to work simultaneously on two imaginary worlds I had cherished as a child and fan, right as Star Wars was going through a worldwide revival”, raves Liesenfeld.

As design manager, he has also come to realise how difficult it is to find the best talent at the right time. “In theory, professional networking platforms offer you access to all the creatives in the world. But then you don’t know if they can really do what you need. Despite millions of digital contacts, personal connections are becoming increasingly important.”

That’s something you see at the USM PlayLab as well: exchanging ideas about the future of work with creative people trained in different disciplines. And doing it in a playful context. That’s what connects us. Now off to the lake for a swim with a few PlayLab colleagues. Who knows what idea this might bring to the surface.