Lego builds itself (back) up

Hi, I’m Eddie, from the support team. Everyone at Datawrapper seems to like Lego. So much that we even have an (almost completed) Lego world map in the office. Something about the simplicity of building something with your own hands appeals to children and adults alike. And this is nothing new: these construction blocks have been on the market for over 70 years now. This week, I dive into Lego’s database to try and learn more about the company and its story of success.

Like many people out there, I grew up building Lego sets. Still now, I find myself giving them as gifts for Christmas and making some stuff with friends when I get the chance. And it’s not only my colleagues and friends who like Lego: even in pandemic times, the Danish company has confirmed its position as the world’s number one toymaker. Forbes places the company in the top 100 most valuable brands, at position 92, with a brand value of $8.6 billion.

But this number is too big to make any sense out of it — let’s go back to the bricks.

Since 1949, Lego has generally released an increasing number of sets every year, except for a significant dip in the early 2000s, when the company was almost literally in pieces. In 2003, their sales dropped by approximately 35% in the U.S. and 26% worldwide compared to the previous year, according to their annual report. They also were $800 million in debt, and an internal report revealed that they hadn't added anything of value to their portfolio for a decade.

Back then, the company was trying to diversify as much as possible to attract a broader audience. As a consequence, they neglected their core product. "We had become arrogant — we didn't listen to customers anymore," said Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO at the time, who was appointed in 2004 to try and save the company. Their focus went back to more classic Lego lines, like City and Space, and those based on famous film and videogame sagas or explicitly designed for AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego). Some of that diversification strategy remained, however, and became especially prominent during the last decade, with more and more sets being released each year.

The average number of parts per set has also increased in recent yearsAccording to a 2018 study, Lego sets are becoming "bigger, more colorful and more specialized", allowing fans out there to create even more intricate designs.

A rainbow of bricks

Some of Lego’s basic colors, like black and white, seem to maintain their representation across the years. However, other classics like red, blue, and yellow decreased in the mid-2000s, opening up space for a wider variety of colors and shades. The last few decades came with an explosion of the number of colors, and also the creative possibilities.

Continue exploring

The data for this blog post comes from Rebrickable, a site that shows you which Lego designs you can build from the sets and parts you already have. Their database is updated daily and it can be easily downloaded as CSV files, or you can query their API directly. If this blog post made you curious about Lego, here are some other ideas you could explore:

  • What are the most common pieces in the Lego sets? What are the rarest pieces?
  • What are the least common colors for Lego pieces?
  • What colors are associated with specific themes? For example, space, city life, architecture...
  • And let's not forget about Minifigures! I'd be interested to know who most of them depict and their average number of parts.

That's all from me this week! Thanks for reading, and I hope this blog post encouraged you to go and explore Rebrickable and make some charts yourself. If you do, send me a message on Twitter or an email at I'd like to see what you create! Next week, it will be our software engineer Simon's turn to write a Weekly Chart. He always writes fascinating blog posts; check out his latest one, where he gives you ideas for better election poll graphics.