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LinkedIn in LEGO: Q&A

Ever since I began showing the LinkedIn in LEGO sculpture, I’ve been shocked with how many questions people have about it.  There is definitely something about seeing a LEGO sculpture of this size in person that makes people want to know more.

So while this blog post is the official description of how and why I built the LinkedIn in LEGO sculpture, I thought a 20 questions format would be fun and useful.

Let’s Play Twenty Questions

  1. What gave you the idea to build the LinkedIn in LEGO sculpture?
    I was driving to work in May, and as usual I drove by the Google building that houses the Android team.  They have a tradition of putting a sculpture of each of their releases out based on the codename (“honeycomb”, “ice cream”, etc).  I love these sculptures, but they always bothered me because Google is techie, and there is nothing techie about playground sculptures.I immediately thought how much cooler they would be if they were made of LEGO bricks, and thought that LinkedIn actually had nothing “cool” in its lobby.  So the idea was hatched to build a LinkedIn LEGO sculpture for our lobby on the next InDay.

  2. How big is the sculpture in real life?
    It’s four feet tall, four feet wide, and one foot deep (approximately). 4′ x 4′ x 1′.

  3. Why did you pick that size?
    I tried to pick a size that was big enough to be visually impressive, and a good size for people to stand next to for photographs.  There was also some cost sensitivity, as the number of bricks required effectively goes up as a cubic function.

  4. How big is a LEGO brick anyway?
    There is suprising complexity to this question, but the most interesting aspect of designing with LEGO bricks instead of pixels is that they are not perfectly cubic. A LEGO “stud” is 8.0mm wide and 8.0mm deep, but is 9.6mm tall, giving you an effective 6/5 ratio to work with in your model design.

  5. How many LEGO bricks are in it?
    Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact figure.  I ordered 8,000 bricks from LEGO.com, but also purchased a large number from local LEGO stores.  It’s definitely over 10,000 bricks, but likely less than 12,000.

  6. Are they real LEGO bricks?
    I don’t know why everyone asks that question, but yes, these are regular lego bricks, mostly 2×8.  They are not Duplo bricks or any other no-name brand.

  7. How much does it weigh?
    I don’t have the exact weight, but the shipping weight of the LEGO bricks alone was over 170 pounds, and I purchased at least another 50 pounds of bricks from the LEGO stores.  Including the heavy stand, the sculpture is well over 200 pounds.

  8. Where did you buy them?
    I purchased the bulk of the bricks directly from LEGO.  We had to call and fax the order in because the online form won’t let you order more than 999 of any one brick.  Due to changes in the design made during construction, I ended up buying another several thousand bricks from the LEGO stores in Valley Fair and Hillsborough.

  9. How much did it cost to make?
    Total cost was fairly close to $5,000.  That includes the cost of the bricks, the supplies to build the stand, and other related expenses.

  10. How did you build the stand for it?
    Home Depot to the rescue.  The base is custom cut 3/4 inch plywood, framed by 2×4 lumber, with 6 200-lb furniture moving locking wheels underneath.  Once assembled, I spray painted matte black and screwed the 32×32 blue lego base tiles in a grid on to it.

  11. How did you come up with the design for the [in]?
    This was a bit tricky given the non-square dimensions of the bricks.  Based on 8.0mm width, I quickly determined the logo would be 160 studs wide.  Using the 5/6 ratio, this meant 133 bricks tall.  I took the official LinkedIn logo and reduced it down to a 160×160 bitmap.  I then resided to 160×133, and manually fixed symmetry errors that were introduced by applying the ratio.

  12. How did you build the four rounded corners?
    This was one of the more complicated parts of the construction, as the corners actually support most of the weight of the side walls.  As a result, they are built more broadly internally to ensure significant cross-dimensional support.  The top corners were also particularly fragile at first because of the lack of internal support.  For both the top & the bottom, I had to rebuild them three times to find the strongest pattern of bricks.

  13. Is the white [in] actually inset by one brick?
    Yes.  One of the trickiest aspects of the [in] was insetting it by one brick for effect, and then ensure that there was ample strength between the blue and white bricks.  I ended up building a hidden “3rd layer” behind the seam where the white & blue bricks meet to join the two layers every 10 rows.  I also used 2×3 bricks in several locations to lock in support for the hidden third row.

  14. How did you make the curves smooth?
    The rendering of the curves follows the 160×133 logo exactly.  It’s not perfectly smooth, but I think that’s part of the charm of a LEGO sculpture.  In this industry, we all love pixels at some level.

  15. What’s holding it up?
    The internal substructure is one of the things I failed to model in advance, and had to improvise on during construction.  I ended up making the internal support structure from LEGO bricks as well, which added over 2,000 bricks to the design.  Approximately every 32 studs, there is a “T-shaped” 8 stud clumn that is perpendicular to the walls of the sculpture.  The bricks for the walls of the sculpture are interleaved with these columns every other row, to provide corner-like strength to the entire span.  Every 40 rows, a horizontal beam four bricks tall is added between the columns, to ensure that the large, square walls don’t bend in on each other.  Lastly, there are “joints” internally that bind together the white and blue sections of the design every ten rows.  (see my original blog post for pictures).

  16. What was the hardest part about the design?
    There were a number of difficult challenges, but the most difficult aspect of the design was balancing unexpected stability and design issues with the inventory of bricks that I had available.  Then again, constraints are part of what makes any problem fun to solve.

  17. How long did it take to build it?
    It took about 90 minutes to build ten rows, so the total sculpture took just about 20 hours of effort, typically 1-2 hours per weekend and an evening here and there.  Since I spent about 3-4 hours modelling the design ahead of time in Photoshop and Excel, and another 10-12 hours making trips to local LEGO stores, the grand total time is probably 40 hours.

  18. When did you get it done?
    The modelling was all done in my favorite work time, between 11pm & 2am.  I built the base on Father’s Day.  Most assembly was done at LinkedIn on weekends and the odd evening.

  19. How did you learn to do this?
    There was a surprising amount of useful information on blogs from consultants who build LEGO sculptures for a living.  LEGO, as you might guess, is pretty well covered on the web.  I also asked a question on Quora which provided a few useful tips.

  20. Where can I see it?
    It’s not on public display yet, but later this fall it will debut in the new lobby of 2029 Stierlin Court, LinkedIn’s main building.

If you have additional questions, feel free to post in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Be forewarned – I have no qualms about deleting inappropriate comments / questions.

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