Tigers, Transformers and Legos–Oh my! Thinking retail.

I visited the new LEGO store at the Mall of America this morning.

Note: this post was originally published in 2010.

It reopened this weekend after a major renovation.

I was immediately struck by the amusing sense of scale of the enormous characters constructed of giant Legos.

It triggered an instant appeal to my childlike awe at giant things.

The monstrous size of the saber tooth tiger and the Transformer

character, along with other Lego-built creations hovering over the open ceiling of the new space made you want to go in and build things.

There was a lot of inventory of boxed sets in well-lit shelving on the walls. There were plenty of places to sit and make things. Computer screens circled a work table to allow Lego engineers to log into the Lego resources for answers on how to construct well, I guess, anything you could imagine.

There were rows after rows of bins of Legos that covered the front wall.

They stretched out in a seemingly endless supply of wonderful colors.

It was almost too tantalizing to resist sticking your hands in some of the bins, grabbing some Legos, and sitting down at a table to build something magical.

James Chung and Susie Wilkening recently wrote in their blog Museums are Awesome! about the memorability of experiences that play with our sense of scale: “Over the past few weeks, we have been sharing some of our research into early childhood memories of museum visits. A recurring theme has been what we call the “wow” factor. Time and again, people wrote about being “awestruck” by what they saw at a museum. Unsurprisingly, most awesome memories were about scale. That is, buildings and objects that were larger-than-life were more likely to create that sense of awe in children.”

We sense this with dinosaurs and giant sculpture – like this dramatic “Origins” by Mark di Suvero at the front of the Currier Museum of Art, NH.

Or the iconic  “Spoonbridge  and Cherry” at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center.

Claes Oldernburg & Coosje van Bruggen, Spoonbridge and Cherry, 1985-1988

Nina Simon recently posted a story about how museums could consider borrowing some ideas from the retail world. She highlighted a few points from a recent workshop she attended by Bob Gibbs, an urban planner who designs malls and shopping districts around the US.

Here’s Nina’s take on the workshop in abbreviated form:

  • Within two seconds of entering a store, 70% of people know whether they will buy something. Stores use simple window displays and a “front and center” table to convey what’s hot, and most train a staff member to welcome customers immediately upon entry.
  • An open door generates 35% more business than a closed door. Doors that are flush to the sidewalk are more inviting than recessed doors. How many museum and library entrances are hard to find, dark, and require opening a heavy door?
  • The highest-performing malls and shopping districts (in terms of sales) have lots of clear sight lines from one storefront to another. In a museum or library, this translates well to being able to see across to other exhibits or areas (especially when visiting in a family group that frequently splits and recombines).
  • 75% of American spending occurs after 5:30pm and on Sunday. Stores should be open when people want to shop.
  • The average shopper in America does not like shopping. She’s a single mom with very limited time. She wants to get in and out quickly, with a good deal on the thing she needs. The only time she likes shopping is when on vacation. Shopping is one of the most popular vacation activities, and many Americans plan their trips in part around shopping.

These data are startling in some ways, yet, on reflection, this is how each of us approaches “store fronts” whether it’s a retail space, like the Lego store at Mall of America, our favorite artist’s studio or gallery, or a museum.

Museums frequently have an object or a collection that suggests an opportunity to play with scale, whether large or tiny, or even to highlight scale in terms of magnitude, such as the volume of items in the collection. I am always transfixed and awed by the display of beetles and–in a completely different way–by the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Harvard University.

Perhaps it makes sense for museums and for artists to take some cues from Gibbs and the Lego store on making the experience seem enticing while mixing in elements of scale.

Maybe it just takes thinking like a five-year-old.

Update 1.15.11: A story in the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) presents Paul Janssen’s part-time project for over two years to build a replica of The Ohio State Stadium. Using one million Lego pieces his quest would have cost about $75,000 to $100,000 if he had to purchase all the pieces new. The 8′ x 6′ model is another example of scale– going the other direction–scaling down a giant piece of architecture to have the humans peer inside and marvel at the detail. He is considering using it as a fundraising focus “for his research on heart failure and muscular dystrophy. The stadium can be filled with up to 6,000 Lego people, he says, each of which could represent a donor.” I love that idea!

About artinthecenter

I am a lifelong artist having studied painting, photography, drawing, and other media, in schools in the US and Italy. I won my first art contest when I was five--at a museum-- and my point of view tends to be as a five-year-old creative child embracing life. Check out all sort of artsy information at: www.watchingpaintdry.com and purchase my artwork at: janemmason.com +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This policy is valid from 1 January 2016. This is a personal, educational, blog written and edited by me, Jane M. Mason. For questions about this blog, please contact: jane@watchingpaintdry.com. Sincere effort has been made to cite, recognize, and thank all sources of content, including images. If you feel we have included something in this blog that has not been accurately noted or recognized, please let me know and I will adjust the citation when presented with details. If you are interested in using intellectual property from this blog, please contact Hello@watchingpaintdry.com. This blog does not accept cash or paid topic insertions. However, we will consider accepting free products and other forms of compensation. The compensation received will not influence content. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. We do not have control over the products advertised. The views and opinions expressed are those of Jane M. Mason or the associates of WPD LLC. We only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, other representation should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. This policy has been adapted from DisclosurePolicy.org. For your own policy, go to http://www.disclosurepolicy.org

2 Responses

  1. […] Thinking of sketching and creating a realistic portrayal of a scene… I suggest you look back at Sargent’s Carrara and Quarry paintings and see how Sargent plays with the sense of scale. Muscular workers are presented as tiny people–only a couple of brushstrokes, really– dwarfed by the gigantic boulders of marble. The importance of scale relates to a previous post of mine about the Lego store at Mall of America and its playfulness with the sense of scale. You can find the post here, “Tigers, Transformers and Legos–Oh my!!” […]

  2. Young at Heart

    Great descriptions of the Lego display and fascinating statistics.
    I love the idea of “thinking like a five-year-old”!

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