Gibson Ek High School student Ted McDorman has been interested in LEGOs all his life. So perhaps it’s fitting that the company is playing a pivotal role in the culmination of his high school career.
McDorman says he spent his freshman and sophomore years at Gibson Ek exploring his interests. “Junior year, I decided I wanted to take that leap and reach out to LEGO,” he said. Initially, McDorman started out by talking with an acquaintance, who knew someone working for LEGO. After repeated check-ins, though, that lead didn’t pan out. Next, McDorman said, his mom reached out via Facebook while he sent emails. He persevered, and eventually landed a meeting, which went well.
“It was in marketing, which actually turned out to be one of the best things for me,” McDorman recalled. And so, from January through June of last year, he had the opportunity to work (virtually) with the marketing team to create an ad campaign for a product he had been working on. That led to the chance to work with a product designer this year, and do a deeper dive into who LEGO designs for, why they make certain types of product lines, and what they design. McDorman has tackled prompts such as: “Examine this LEGO kit, and reimagine how it could be used.” Or, “Design a new play theme for girls ages 8-12 that fits into LEGO’s current portfolio.”
For that project, McDorman researched by talking with a librarian, a toy store manager, a fifth grade teacher and even customers at toy stores – asking what girls in that age range are interested in, what they are reading, and what captures their imagination and attention. He learned that animals and coming-of-age stories are popular. “They’re at an age when they’re wanting to grow up but also hold onto childhood,” McDorman said.
Now that he has had the chance to learn more about LEGO’s marketing and its product design, he said he has a much better understanding of why the two facets of the business are so closely related. “The design and marketing elements are so much more tied together than I had imagined,” McDorman said. “I’m now understanding demographics and trying to make sure you are catering to (your customers’) needs.”
He’s looking for ideas that LEGO isn’t already producing – in hopes of building a play theme that will stand out on shelves. With this newfound and developing knowledge, McDorman is also building his job portfolio and researching what school he would like to attend after graduation, when he intends to study industrial design.
Over the summer, McDorman also had the opportunity to travel to Denmark to visit LEGO headquarters and his marketing mentor.
“We went to the LEGO house and LEGO campus, and learned more about the history of the product in general,” McDorman said. “It was a really incredible experience … to learn what it’s like to live and breathe in that part of the world.” He and his family also spent a week in Copenhagen, and toured some historical sites.
McDorman said his family has always been supportive of his dream to work for LEGO. At home, his room is filled with LEGO projects, as one might imagine, and he says he always has more than one project going at a time. The walls are lined with black storage units full of bricks just waiting to be built into something new. If he’s not busy creating a new LEGO masterpiece, you might find him baking, another of his hobbies. Like building a LEGO set, he loves the fact that he can simply follow the instructions in a recipe and end up with something awesome. His favorite things to bake and eat are brownies and eclairs.
“Ted's internship exemplifies much about what we strive for at Gibson Ek,” said Oliver Jones, McDorman’s adviser. “He has found what he loves to do and is digging in on why it's important to him.”
“He's learning not just what real life is about, but he's really living that life,” Jones continued. “It's been a pleasure to see where that has taken him, as he is now exploring not only careers directly connected to his internship, but branching out to consider a future in industrial design as he begins his college search.”
At Gibson Ek, students often teach “Design Labs” or short courses for fellow students about their areas of expertise. He offered one last year about “How to Design Your Own Lego Kit,” which was a positive experience. “Everyone was excited to play and have fun,” McDorman said. “I like when people are really passionate about their learning, and that’s something that’s really cool about Gibson Ek.”
“Gibson Ek is a really amazing place. It can really change lives,” he said, noting that he wouldn’t be on his current path if it weren’t for the school. “You can really go as far as you believe yourself to be able to.”
In the photo: Gibson Ek student Ted McDorman with his mentor at the LEGO headquarters in Denmark.