Lego as analogy for structured content

Separate, reusable items of content that can be selected and combined into different versions/displays of a larger story/message. Instead of having to produce each version from scratch, you pick and mix from a given set of elements. Of course, Lego is an easy to understand analogy for that way of authoring a more complex piece.

Though the analogy is easy to understand, on closer inspection it quickly falls apart, only to become an even richer metaphor for the challenges of authering for and with re-usable content.

Analogy, meet reality

Brickowl.com is a shop of shops selling individual lego parts. It lists 54851 different Lego parts at the time of writing. Do you have that many parts and components defined in your content repo or design system? Probably not, nor should you want or need to.

Many of these thousands are because of different decorations on the same type of part:

There goes your separation of content and presentation!

Variations on a theme

Another multiplier is the number of ever so slight variations on a single type of brick. For example Lego brick 1x2:

And that's not even taking into account the considerable number of different solid colors most parts come in.

Some variation seem to have been created for very few or even a single use-case. “LEGO Brick 2 x 4 with No Cross Supports with Hole has been used in at least 1 LEGO sets over the past 52 years, since it was first used in 1970”.

Something something backwards compatible!

Humble beginnings

Another thing the inventory of parts on brickowl does illustrate quite well is Gall's Law:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.”

The 54851 parts have evolved from humble beginnings. Within the 3773 different types of bricks, the “standard” category consists of only 79 parts.

For another time: the myriad ways in which parts don't fit together or do fit but amount to weird non-standard dimensions that don't work with neigbouring parts. (I know about this).

Still working on the structured content version of bare feet stepping on a brick in the dark joke, too.

9/365

Roy Scholten