Jens Nygaard Knudsen

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POSTED: March 4, 2020

Jens Nygaard Knudsen died last week at the age of 78.

He worked for Lego from 1968 to 2000 and USA Today described him as “the mastermind behind the yellow Lego person with interchangeable limbs. The racially ambiguous figurine is often referred to as “Lego Man.”

Since 1978, they have grown from a limited range built from standard parts into an enormous collection of different figures using custom parts. Auo bought this gigantic figure at Legoland in Windsor In 2010. If you pull its head off you will find a full size ballpoint pen inside.

Wikipedia notes that

The first modern minifigures were released in 1978, included in Castle, Space, and Town sets. These were designed by Jens Nygaard Knudsen, who had come up with the idea for having the torsos, legs, and arm pieces interchangeable. As these were made into pieces, the company decided to give them a simple facial expression, rendered as two solid black dots for eyes and a smile painted in solid black, and without any gender or racial components, believing that these factors would be “determined by the child’s imagination and play”.

In 1989, minifigures in the Pirates theme were produced with different facial expressions. The Pirates minifigures also included hooks for hands, as well as peg legs; this was the first departure from the traditional body parts.

Another departure from traditional parts was the use of spring-loaded legs. These legs are joined together at the top. These legs were only featured in basketball sets, 2002–2003. Other leg variations include short legs for children or dwarfs, or long legs (used in the Toy Story theme).

In 2003, the first minifigures with naturalistic skin tones (as opposed to the yellow used until this point) were released, as part of the Lego Basketball theme; these minifigures were also created in the likeness of living people. This also included Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars theme. The following year, the use of natural skin tones was expanded to all licensed products; in which figures were created to represent film actors and other living people. Popular examples include Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Batman minifigures.

By 2006, Lego had reportedly produced 4 billion minifigures. There are at least 3655 different minifigures produced between 1975 and 2010 and the number of new minifigures per year is increasing rapidly. In 2010 more than 300 new minifigures were introduced.

My younger son Jack once wrote to Lego asking why all the people had the same happy expression, because he wanted some villains. Lego replied saying that everyone felt happy all the time in Legoland.

A couple of years later they introduced a range of new expressions, including the snarling villains that Jack wanted.