3D Product Configurator Design

Exploring the design, value and landscape of 3D Product Configurators.

LEGO – Augmented Reality vs Product Configuration


LEGO.  Those 4 letters bring happiness to millions of children the world over, and no doubt equally as many parents.  The beloved company that builds the planet’s most popular toy has managed to stand the test of time with it’s unique ability to create a strong emotional connection between it’s products and customers.  The LEGO Group recently became the world’s biggest toy company, and that’s due to the innovative approach they have to reinventing themselves, enabling them to survive for over 80 years.

For such a world leading company, you’d expect LEGO to be at the forefront of the digital revolution, and you would be right.  They strongly believe in the future of customisation, and as a result they created DESIGN byMe some years ago with the vision of a unique customisation service.  This used their own Lego Digital Designer software, which was their version of a LEGO 3D product configurator.

However before I touch on that, I first want to share the main reason for this post, which is to demonstrate an incredible solution LEGO have created for visualising it’s products in-store.  It’s one of the best practical uses of Augmented Reality I have seen (which are completely related to product configurators).

To see how well it creates that emotional connection we spoke of, here is an incredibly professional report from someone not afraid to let out their inner child…

This example demonstrates exactly the type of customer experience that companies want their products to create, to trigger impulse purchases, which account for a large portion of consumer spending.  This goes back to my seeing is believing post.

These LEGO Augmented Reality Kiosks were built by global AR leaders Metaio who teamed up with Intel to create this in-store solution rolled out globally in 2010.  To get a feel for the outstanding work Metaio do, here is a short video from CEO and Co-Founder, Dr Thomas Alt.  In addition, here is a case study and press release about the project.

For a taste of how the Intel technology works check out this video.  In essence, Intel used a new type of processor architecture, called Sandy Bridge, to enable the 3D models to be rendered smoothly in real-time, which was something that couldn’t easily be achieved in the past.  It is worth noting, that when designing these interactive 3D experiences, the hardware architecture is just as important as the software architecture.

Although this blog is more specifically focused on 3D product configurators, I wanted to share this innovation to demonstrate that Augmented Reality is a close relative.

There are many ways for a company to bring a product into the consumer’s world, and the use of real-time interactive 3D covers quite a broad domain.  A 3D Product configurator is one slice of that domain, and Augmented Reality is another.  There is a lot of crossover between the two, and there are many other slices of the same domain that exist and also overlap.  With that in mind, here are some key areas of interactive 3D that can be used for products:

  • Photo-real product visualisation – to literally see what the genuine product looks like from any angle showing the true form, materials and lighting.
  • Viewing a product in context (Augmented Reality) – to see what a product looks like in the real world where it might be used.
  • Immersively engaging with a product (Virtual Reality) – experiencing the product by stepping into a full 3-dimentional world with stereo vision and depth perception.
  • View a product in use – interacting with a product which animates to display features and usability.
  • Interactively view product information – display product specifications, measurements, information and instructions in a more intuitive and on-demand fashion.
  • Product configuration – use interactive technology to visualise any possible combination of parts, options and materials to create your perfect customised product.

Lego seems like a good candidate for digital configuration, and to that end as mentioned above, they created the Lego Digital Designer.  Here is a delightful video of young chap who is thrilled with the software, showing you how it can be used.

This software was part of the DESIGN byMe service which was discontinued in 2012 because, as they wrote “it struggled to live up to the quality standards for a LEGO service”.  I believe the Lego Digital Designer software lives on, and can be likened to a digital version of playing with LEGO.

It demonstrates that people do want to customise, but it’s challenging to make the whole process work efficiently and make the user experience simple, engaging and fun.  Lego were on to something and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t re-emerge at some point in the future in a different form.

To make the 3D product configurators that we will use in the near future, each of the enablers that go in to making them already have existing solutions, they just need to be connected up.  In a future post, I will talk about these enablers.  The solution lies in bringing different worlds together, such as 3D visualisation, engineering and gaming. The key to that is to combine ideas by being open to different perspectives (world views), and allowing new concepts to be born.  This paves the way towards blue ocean markets.

Perhaps if the Lego Digital Designer adopts Minecraft’s approach to using blocks to build stuff, it may see a resurgence in their customisation service…


2 thoughts on “LEGO – Augmented Reality vs Product Configuration

  1. Reblogged this on Augmented Reality Blog and commented:
    “This example demonstrates exactly the type of customer experience that companies want their products to create, to trigger impulse purchases, which account for a large portion of consumer spending.” Great post about our LEGO Digital Box!

  2. Pingback: 3D Shed Configurator from Idea Room Tech | 3D Product Configurator Design

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