Milan Reindl: the only Czech designer for LEGO
Milan Reindl, a former English teacher from a small town of Sušice, is the only Czech working as a model designer at the Danish toy giant LEGO. He only fell for the LEGO bricks in his mid-twenties and just a few years later, he landed a dream job in the LEGO Technic department. This autumn, Milan Reindl will also star in the first Czech edition of the Lego Masters show.
I spoke to him on the phone to Denmark’s Billund and I first asked him how he got the dream job in LEGO:
“In 2010, LEGO Group was looking for new designers and I was bold enough to send my CV with a few images of my best-looking models. Nobody called me back for about half a year but then I was invited for my first job interview.
“I passed it successfully but within a few days I was informed that they actually occupied the new designer position internally and I would have to wait.
“I really wanted to show them they made a big mistake and luckily for me there was another vacant position within a year. So we shook hands and since 2012 I have been working as a LEGO designer in the LEGO Technic department over here in Billund.”
have you always been interested in LEGO, since your early childhood?
“I wouldn’t even call it early childhood. The first time I touched LEGO bricks was when I was ten and it wasn’t even my LEGO.
“It was at my friend’s place and really fell in love with the infinite possibilities of what you could build with limited amount of bricks, how much you could combine them into all sorts of different models.
“A year later I got my first LEGO sets and then I got a few more, but we didn’t have much when I was fourteen and I eventually dropped it and thought I would never come back.
“But when I was 25 I got a LEGO Technic set for Christmas and that just ignited my new-found passion for LEGO, especially LEGO Technic, and it became a sort of addiction, maybe even an obsession. Since I was 25, I have never stopped building.”
How difficult was it to get the job? What was the job interview like?
“The job interview was totally different to what the new applicants have to go through these days. Back then I just received an email with some requirements about what I should prepare, which included some hand-drawn sketches and some ideas for new LEGO elements.
“Then I was sent three boxes that were unfortunately stuck for two and a half weeks in Germany and when I got them, I had just six days instead of three weeks to complete my home assignment. But I managed to do it overnight.
“I also brought some of my home models to the interview that took place in Prague with the then leader of the LEGO Technic department.”
So what does you regular work day look like?
“Some people think that we play all the time at work. Of course that would be great and sometime it is actually true, but of course there are some aspects of the job that we don’t enjoy, like attending meetings, doing paperwork and writing emails.
“But if you have a really good day, you can spend possibly two thirds to three quarters of it just by listening to your favourite music and building and exploring the LEGO bricks.”
Do you come up with the design ideas and do you work according to some assignments?
“It should be pretty much both. Sometimes the designers come up with great ideas that are incorporated into the new assortment of the LEGO Technic department.
“It was at my friend’s place and really fell in love with the infinite possibilities of what you could build with limited amount of bricks.”
“Sometimes it’s our bosses who come up with something that is either trending in the toy industry or with some license models that could be interesting, for example when a famous car brand is launching a new model. So it can be both ways.”
You have worked in LEGO since 2012 and you have since created nearly 30 new designs.
“Yes, right now it is 27, but I am getting close to 30.”
Which of your models are you most proud of?
“One of the models I am most proud of is the Fire Plane 42040 that I design in 2015 and it just ticks all the boxes that the great LEGO technique model should have.
“It looks good, it’s sturdy, it’s playable and it has plenty of functions. It works the way the toy should work. Another one would is probably the Land Rover Defender that I designed two and a half years ago.”
What is the most challenging model you have made so far?
“Definitely the more challenging was the Land Rover Defender, because it has a very complex gear box. The car is basically wrapped around the gear case section, but you also need to pack inside all the other functions.
“So it was rather difficult to find the space for all these things, like suspension, gearing, opening doors, opening tailgate, and so on.
“But I would say the one that took the most toll from me in terms of stress and workload was the Mercedes-Benz Zetros, which is a remote controlled off-road truck.
“I was close to completing the model when the Covid-19 lockdown hit the world. It was extremely difficult to make decisions, to get answers from the licensing partners or get help from my colleagues, because everybody was working from home and we were completely isolated.”
As far as I know, you don’t only design machines and vehicles, but you also like to design animals.
“I do not design them as an official product because LEGO Technic mostly designs vehicles and authentic machines, but I tend to take my own sets or my colleague’s sets and in my free time I rebuild them into something that resembles either animals or some mythical or fantasy creatures, such as dragons.”
Do you mostly work on your own or is the designing a team effort?
“Most of it is team effort. You are responsible for your own model but it shouldn’t stop you from asking your colleagues for feedback. When problems arise you should always go and seek help among them, because there is so much knowledge, expertise and experience.
“Some of my colleagues started in the Lego Technic department in 1987 and the first set that they designed was the one I admired in the catalogues when I first discovered the LEGO bricks. So it is amazing to work with such people.”
You are the only Czech in the designer team. How many nationalities are there?
“The Lego Technic team as such has 14 designers. They are mostly Danish, but there are also Germans, Americans, Norwegians and French. I am the only Czech person. But within the overall design organisation in the LEGO group there are over 400 designers from over 40 countries. So it is quite a diverse design team.”
What would you say are the qualities a successful LEGO designer needs to have?
“First of all, I would say, you need a lot of passion for what you are doing. Without the interest, you shouldn’t be doing this. If it doesn’t bring you happiness and joy, you should be doing something else.
“You should also be very patient. When you design Lego Technic models, sometimes you have to rebuild some of the sections fifty times before you get them right.
“Especially when you are working on something that is licensed, the licensing partner just want the best result and you are trying to make them happy and so you are rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding until you get it right.
“You need a lot of passion for what you are doing. Without the interest, you shouldn’t be doing this.”
“And you should of course have a general interest in toys and understanding of the target audience, which is children of all ages. You should know what children like to play with.
“And if you have a degree from industrial design or even toy design, it definitely helps. But there are many of my colleagues and they are very successful designers.”
You have spent the last ten years living in Billund. What do you like about your life in Denmark?
“I think Danes tend to spend more time with their families. They tend to stick together more as a family. They have more family gatherings and celebrations and birthday and Christmas parties.
“But in many ways, they are similar to the Czech people. They like their beer and they like to smoke, but they also do a lot more exercise.
“What I also like about Denmark is that the seaside is just 30 kilometres away from Billund. If you want to go and swim in the sea, it’s totally possible. It’s a bit colder, but it’s not too bad.
“But to be honest, I do very deeply miss the forests and hills of the Czech Republic, as well as the rivers and castle ruins. You don’t get that in Denmark. The land is very much flat and it’s definitely not a great country for skiing.”
Finally, we should also mention that you will feature in the first Czech-Slovak edition of the LEGO Masters series in the role of the main judge, the so-called Brickmaster. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
“I was approached by the production company in mid-autumn last year if I could find time to be the Brickmaster on the show. I thought it was a great opportunity because I know the programme from many other language mutations and it looks like so much fun when you watch it.
“So I just decided to seize the opportunity. We spent three weeks filming with the contestants on the Polish set and I hope it is going to be as much time as it was during the shooting.”