THIS WINTER, Lego, the toy company that has inspired many an engineer, unveiled a line of blocks called Lego Friends, aimed specifically at girls. The bricks come in pastel colors, the figurines go to beauty shops, and the concept is straight out of market research. Lego executives say girls play differently from boys. They don’t want to build complex fighter jets like the ones on the cover of the Lego Star Wars boxes. They want to tell stories, instead.
I have no doubt that girls in focus groups were interested in putting little Lego flowers on little Lego treehouses. But that’s not the whole story; figuring out what girls want is a matter of asking the right questions. A year ago, when the Girl Scout Research Institute embarked on a study of girls, math, and science, researchers expected to find a Lego Friends sort of world: girls drawn to cute and pretty stuff, who didn’t aspire to careers in science. Instead, the study’s results, which are being released today, upend those old assumptions.