‘Never forget how to play’: Windsor-born Lego designer on his journey

Building Lego models really could land you a job one day — at least that’s how it worked out for Windsor-born Michael Lee Stockwell. 

Stockwell turned his love of Lego into a career designing the Lego Star Wars line of offerings. 

He spoke with the CBC about his journey, all the way from attending high school in Kingsville, Ont. to working in Denmark. 

How did you get from Kingsville to the world of Lego?

I think that goes back to my early years in school when I recognized that I needed to find an outlet for my creativity. I ended up heading for Toronto and I studied at George Brown College in jewelry arts and goldsmithing. That started me on an almost 20-year career as a jewelry designer.

Suddenly this opportunity at Lego popped up and I hadn’t really considered it … but I applied for the job and I got it.

I’ve never really looked back. I think many think maybe it’s a long ways from those two careers but they actually do fit together quite well. 

What’s one of the most valuable things you learned in your jewelry design days that you’ve been able to carry over to your Lego design days?

For my approach to design, it’s not so much about what I’m designing but about how the user is going to react to the design. The aesthetics of course are always a part of design, but it’s more about that human interaction. I think that’s the key to the success of a great piece of jewelry as well as a great Lego model. 

Did you ever dream that one day you’d be designing for Lego?

I don’t even think as a kid I considered where the toy was even coming from. I remember clearly the day I called my sister and told her I got the job at Lego and I had to wait for her to stop laughing — in her mind, there was no more perfect place for me to be than in a job where I was designing something at Lego. It’s kind of funny to think I’ve ended up here. 

What would you say to that kid from southwestern Ontario with big dreams of working for a company like Lego?

One of the things we really look for as far as designers is your ability to just go with your imagination. Anything you can imagine … build it, draw it, sculpt it, write about it. That’s how George Lucas created Star Wars — he had this amazing concept that he visualized and he put on film. A lot of people thought he was crazy, but look at what we’re doing now. 

They say we don’t know what our children are going to be doing for work … but they’ll have to be able to work together with a lot of other great, talented people. Just keep building it — and never forget how to play. 

Answers have been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full interview with Michael Lee Stockwell on CBC’s Afternoon Drive:

Stockwell will be in Toronto’s Fan Expo from Aug. 22 to 24, where you can catch him at a panel on Lego.