Marketing Science to Girls

Sometimes girls and boys look at things differently. Girls often care about how something appeals to the senses as well as how it works. Does everything in the NXT have to be grayscale? Perhaps we can appeal to LEGO to offer a creative resource kit which might increase the NXT's appeal to girls.

The most obvious things I would include in such a kit would be

(1) pieces offered in different colors---not "girly" colors, just LEGO colors. Believe it or not, even some boys prefer color.

(2) pieces which allow for building curves---not just hard angles.

What do you think? Can you think of something that would make NXT more appealing to girls?


Thinking back to when I was younger, I remember that (most) girls typically weren't interested in cars, spaceships, scifi, etc... although at the time I never really gave it much though, today I do wonder what it is that encourages or discourages young girls from being interested in things that are generally considered of "male interest" - things like robots fall into that.

When I was in engineering school, there were quite a few females studying engineering, but I'd still estimate it was less than 10% of the total population of engineering students. I'm sure television, gender-based treatment from adults, and other factors play a strong part. I don't know what the answer is, but I sure hope if I have a little girl that she'll love learning and creating as much as I do - robots or otherwise.

Anonymous said…
I believe that it may just be that most girls dont have a natural intrest in things like this. Not saying that some girls dont like this stuff, it is just not common. Why do you think that there is a girl market and a boy market?
Anonymous said…
I don't believe that science and technology need to be marketed to different groups of people. Those who get involved with it should have a genuine interest in it, and if it's the colour scheme of the kit that makes a person buy it, then they're doing it for the wrong reason.

It is true that there are few girls involved in robotics. I mentor a group of grade school students which consists of seven boys and only a single girl. I've been to a good number of competitions and usually only about 10% of the participents are girls.

I think that girls should be encouraged to get involved in robotics, but it should be done by promoting the technological aspects, not the aesthetic ones.
Anonymous said…
When my mom wanted to get a computer, here only requirement was "I want it to be white"
All she was interested in was aesthetics.
If I wanted to get a computer, I could care less what it looks like, but I can rattle off a long list of technical requirements.

I really don't see how this is a boy girl split though. Our FLL team was (unintentionally) 50% boys and 50% girls. And NOBODY cared what the robot looked like, jut how it worked.
Anonymous said…
Two comments:

1. If you are really interested in the boy/girl differences in interests, I would highly recommend that you read the book "Why men don't listen & Women can't read maps" by Allan & Barbara Pease (publisher Orion PTI). A very readable book it provides some valuable insights into human behaviour that I think everyone should be aware of.

2. Personally I am very disappointed with the NXT colour scheme. Give me the normal LEGO bright colours any day. After all, the colour does not affect the functionality of a device but it does affect its attractiveness.
I am very interested in getting girls more interested also. Below is a description of a course I've put together for this summer. Comments/suggestions would be welcome!

Course Title
Artistic Invention and Expression

Exercise your creativity and ingenuity as you combine art and engineering!

The Artistic Invention and Expression course is modeled after other highly successful initiatives that seek to introduce students to technology and engineering design by combining those concepts with creative artistic expression. Similar programs have been successfully run in situations as diverse as after-school learning environments in under-served communities ( and to museums ( to college courses at Wellesley College ( and MIT (

Students will combine craft materials with mechanical parts and programmable devices. Girls and boys will both be inspired to think more imaginatively about what is possible and what they want to construct as they learn through creative engineering. They will develop theme-based creations that will be displayed in an exhibition during the last class session.

No prior building or programming experience is required. Students will be taught everything they need to know during class. Students will work in teams of two or three - friends are welcome to sign up together and will be allowed to be partners. All materials will be provided.
Anonymous said…
As a girl (approaching 30), I have always loved Lego, my first sets were the 'Classic' space when I was about 8 or 9, and then I discovered Technic sets when I was about 10 - and have been hooked ever since.

My sets included cars with piston engines, and a pneumatic JCB - not very "girly"! I found it fascinating, but then I have always been interested in science and technology.

I have rediscovered Lego via the NXT and couldn't care less what colour it is, however, I have noticed a tendancy to try and make my own robot designs colour-coordinated - is this a "girl thing"?

I do not think making the kits brightly coloured will on its own encourage girls, it's a culture thing. Many girls who are interested might be put off joining FLL etc. because they (rightly or wrongly) think it will be dominated by boys. Also girls tend (again, not always) to be less motivated by competition.

I wonder how many girls are enjoying the technical Lego quietly at home on their own (like me)!
Fay Rhodes said…
I asked this question originally because the NXT was designed and marketed specifically for 14-year-old boys. If that's the case, then why can't they do the same kind of "marketing" for girls? I don't have the answers about what would appeal to girls, but you can bet that market researchers do.
David Levy said…
response to langellier post
I'd be interested to here more about your "Artistic Invention and Expression" course. Are you incorporating the NXT into the curriculum?
I'll be running a camp this summer for rising 6th-8th graders. The theme will be based on the 2006 FLL challenge however I am always on the lookout for new ideas.

Tony said…
I think the male / female divide is not so much about engineering, physics and maths as such. Rather the presentation of them as being abstract activities.

Women, (and girls!), blossom in areas such as as botany and medicine where the practical relevance to the world around them is more obvious.

Of course there are nurture aspects as well. In some communist regimes girls and boys were assigned jobs or subjects for degrees with little account of their interests. As far as I know the men and women passed through their training to become equally able chemical engineers or crane operators.

I am currently reading about USian women who grew up with an interest in technology, and their family conflicts or support. This is a collection of essays by such women, titled "She's such a geek - women write about science, technology & other nerdy stuff". Edited by Annalee Newitz & Charlie Anders, ISBN 1-58005-190-1. (I saw Annalee talk about the book recently, and was persuaded to go and buy it.)

Tony N.
Brian Davis said…
On the subject of the NXT colors, there's another factor to consider - cost. I'd love a brighter color scheme for a lot of NXT creations as well, but LEGO couldn't profitably include a full set of duplicate parts in, say, five different color schemes. Instead, they chose to select a nice neutral pallet that can be complemented by small amounts of different colors. I actually think they really did a good (coilor-coordinating) job with the colro scheme.

On the subject of boys vs. girls in LEGO, the newest edition of BrickJournal is out, and has a very nice article on female AFoL's that readers might quite enjoy. Take a look:

Brian Davis
Fay, you've opened up a great discussion here!

I have a sister - she was tops in math (straight As in Calculus I and Calculus II in high school) and is still very bright :)

She chose accounting as a career, but I have no doubt that she could have done very well in the engineering programs available at her university.

We both had a teacher in 7th grade for math - I won't mention his name, but when it came to boys, he was very strict and always made sure we knew how to calculate the right answer - he would "embarass" us by sending us to the board to do these long math problems until we got it right. I disagree (today) with his method, but there's no doubt my math skills when I moved to 8th grade were exceptional. Now, when it came to the girls, he handled them too delicately. I can remember him telling a friend of mine, Wendy, "That's okay - math is hard. You just keep trying." He would baby them and really didn't give them the hard time that the boys received.

Today, this type of behavior would never be tolerated, but back in the early 80s, I saw a LOT of this behavior in the math and science classes. I'm not trying to insult the teaching profession, but in my experience I saw so many girls treated as if math and science was a man's field. (To add insult to injury - boys were NOT allowed to take Home Economics where they taught the girls cooking, sewing, etc - boys were only later allowed to take it in high school).

I've got a baby on the way and let me tell you - boy or girl - that child will be shown the wonders of everything - math, history, science, English, and, yes, robots :P

Rick Rhodes said…
In the latest issue of Brick Journal to which Brian refers, several AFFOLs (Adult Female Fans of Lego) are interviewed.

Most of these women say that Lego isn't doing enough to market their products to girls.

The research out there indicates that boys and girls show preferences for different kinds of toys. (Whether this is due to "nature" or "nurture" is a matter of debate).

Marketing science and tech toys to girls makes sense to me. If such marketing helps to interest girls in science and technology, then that seems like a net gain for society.
Fay Rhodes said…
I'm not suggesting here that the basic kit be changed, but that they offer supplemental resource sets which are less gender-typed.

Is the point of the NXT pure science, or is it meant to introduce young people to the world of robotics and the science associated with it?

If a publisher wants me to pick up his book in the bookstore, it better have an appealing cover. There's nothing wrong with enticing anyone---young or old---to learn about different areas of science.

This is particularly important when it's used in the public school setting. Don't (good) teachers intentionally try to make their subjects attractive to all their students? How are girls going to know if they love science if it's presented in a way that doesn't appeal to them?

I had an aunt who never tasted a strawberry in her whole life, but she decided they were disgusting and refused to taste one. I don't want girls to look at the NXT and refuse to "taste" it because what they see isn't enticing to them.

Offering supplemental sets with a greater variety of colors and shapes is no more expensive than creating any other LEGO set. The plastic is the same, whether it's molded into technic pieces or into classic sets.
I've said it before in an "open letter to LEGO" and I'll say it again:

Look at Apple - the iPod came in original white and now you can get it in over a dozen different colors. Why? Because Apple realized that people like color. I agree with Fay - don't choose colors to appeal to a gender - choose colors because it provides variety.

(I'd still buy a Black or Silver colored Brick, though)

Peter Hoh said…
Jim makes a great point about Apple and the new color options for the ipod. It's interesting to note that while the second generation iMacs came in a wide array of fruit-flavored colors, the company's current computers only come in black and white.

As for LEGO and color optons, the new Ferrari F430 model comes with both red and yellow body parts (LEGO item 8143). This is the first time I can recall an advanced model coming out with 2 colors options in the same set. Cost is US$10 more than a similar model from last year.

NXT processors in different body colors? I'm sure that would appeal to a lot of dedicated AFOL hobbyists.

What would make LEGO NXT more appealing to girls? I'll be talking later this week to my boss about how we can make our LEGO classes more appealing to girls. I'll get back to you about what I learn.
Response to David Levy post

I'd be happy to share additional details with you for what I have in mind for the Artistic Inventions and Expression course. We could carry the conversation to email if you'd like, and post back the highlights. Feel free to email me at langellier AT

I am planning 10 different LEGO courses at Moraine Valley Community College this summer. I'll email you the descriptions for all of them. Some are based on past FLL themes, others are based on the Carnegie Mellon camp disks, and some are my own design (synthesized from numerous sources of inspiration).

Anyone else who is interested in the description of all 10 courses is welcome to email.
Anonymous said…
I'm very happy that the NXT set only comes in gray/white. I tend to ignore the asthetic look of my creations as I am building them. With the current set of parts, whatever I build looks reasonably color-coordinated. If they were to introduce various colors in the next set, I would either need to be alot more careful when constructing, as well as needing alot more parts, or my creations would end up being a mishmash of whatever colors I have on hand. Already this is starting thanks to the colors in some of the other sets and pieces I've bought.

As for marketing the NXT to girls, Lego's last foray into the female toy market (Clikits) was a failure, and it seems unlikely that they would be intrested in doing so again. Also the primary age group of the NXT set is around 12-16, while its been a decade or so since I was that age, it was generally acceptable for boys to be playing with toys at that age. Girls on the other hand wouldn't be caught dead with toys after the age of 11 or so. This isn't something that Lego is going to be able to change, and any attempts to fight it are likely to be met with failure.
Rick Rhodes said…
Has anyone seen the "rope walker" over on

The rope walker's use of colored pieces improves its look considerably, in my opinion.
Unknown said…
As an engineer, the homeschooling mom of a female engineer-to-be, and the teacher of a robotics/engineering class (6 boys, 3 girls), I have found this thread both interesting and enlightening.

In tonight's class I will assign my students to read this thread and compose their own posts in response. Posting them all here would probably be overkill, but I thought there might be of some interest from this group. Is anyone interested in hearing what my 13-18yos have to say on the matter? If so, is there somewhere appropriate to place this info so that it doesn't clog up this thread?


Absolutely, PLEASE share what your students provide. I know I'm interested, and I'm sure most of the others who have posted here are as well.

Fay Rhodes said…
Jim G., what you say may have merit for the retail market, but the classroom is another story.

Good teachers put a lot of effort into creating interest in their subject. Offering ways to interest girls can only be a good thing. LEGO already offers one Educational Resource Set; I'm merely suggesting that they offer another kind of supplemental set---one with colors and more shapes.

I also look forward to hearing the feedback from joann's students. Perhaps we can begin a new thread with it.
Anonymous said…
Keep in mind that one of the goals of the current Lego management is to reduce, and to keep low the number of active components. That is not just part shapes, but also part colors. Adding another supplemental set that is very similar to an exisiting one, yet with different colors would likely increase this number significantly. Considering the size of educational market, as well as the avalible resources of most schools, it seems unlikely that there would be significant intrest in a set. Perhaps some schools would choose a colorful set instead of the exisitng supplemental set, but its very unlikely they would choose it in addtion to the existing set.
Rick Rhodes said…
Jim G.,

I noticed that your Range Rover on your Motocube web site uses colored technic pieces.

What technic Lego models have the highest number of colored parts? Such models could be cannibalized to build multi-colored NXTs.

Rick R.
Anonymous said…
All of the red pieces I have coem from either the snowmobile or the crawler crane sets. There are a number of colored technic pieces avalible (mostly red and yellow) However these sets are only avalible for a short period of time(a year or two). A Educational set would likely be avalible for many years. This means taht the various colored pieces would have to be in prodcution for a long time, and at very low volumes.
Anonymous said…
All students enter into school with nothing but what they have been exposed to at home or at some other care facility. The reason they don't know or care about these things is because they have not been exposed or introducted to them. Most studies say you have to reach those girls before the ages of 13 to get them hooked. Many PhD's have been earned doing research based on why girls do not go into engineering and computer science and the best reasons they could come up with and support with evidence; no early exposure!
Fay Rhodes said…
Which brings us back to the question of how to most effectively do this!
Anonymous said…
Marketing Science to Girls, Colors in NXT and what the kids think of it all

Well, my class’s responses are in. It’s interesting that the boys seemed more interested than the girls in having colors in NXT sets. We’re hardly a statistical sample, of course.

For what it’s worth, when I suggested to my class that colorful NXT sets might get more girls interested in robots, some of the boys nodded and all of the girls rolled their eyes. ;)

All the girls in my robotics/engineering class have two technical parents – scientists, engineers, and the like. I wonder if marketing science to girls is as simple as making sure technically-minded girls feel accepted – that it’s okay, not “unnatural,” for a girl to be technically-minded.

Below are my students’ responses to this thread. See what you think.


Since I like things that are organized, I probably wouldn't buy multicolored LEGO kits because I don't like separating all of the pieces before I build. And if I don't separate them, they look really blotchy. LEGO might consider making kits containing only two colors--for example: red and blue or pink and purple, and maybe some pastel kit combinations.
-Nolan, age 13

I don't know about what girls like, but as a guy I color coordinate everything I build. In our class we don't have very many colors though, mostly gray and black. Gray and black are great, but they do get old after awhile. I would greatly appreciate more colors, especially orange, green, purple, and yellow.

But I believe whatever the case (prepare for a huge generalization with no data), most people will not mind having more variety in colors. In fact, I think Lego will perhaps even sell more pieces if they add colors, if not only because guys like me will buy more parts. And when it comes right down to it, it's all about the money, now isn't it?
-Ben, age 15

I love variety. Therefore, I don’t see anything wrong with more parts and colors in the NXT kits. When I purchase anything, I like to know my options. For instance, I have 50$. I make a mental list of a few things I would like in that price range. A new video game, a couple CD’s, some books, these would all come to mind. Sometimes I just go to the store and decide there. And always there is the possibility of saving. But also, each item has certain characteristics that factor into the decision as well. CD’s last a long time and are relatively inexpensive for the hours of enjoyment they can provide. Video games are usually a little pricy but, again, can provide hours of fun for me and my siblings. Books are quite cheap for the most part and are one of my top choices of entertainment. That being said, I also like variety when I build with Lego’s. If I am building a robot, I will try to make a color scheme (sometimes) symmetrical, patterned, or different. It’s not a requirement usually, bit it is fun to make the creation more appealing to the eye. When I was younger, I didn’t care about the colors all being a random hodgepodge of green, red, blue, yellow, etc. All I wanted was something to play with. But, I would always notice how sloppy it made my work look. So one day I decided to color-coordinate a design. The result was much better looking than my previous creations. It also made it look more intentional, more like someone had a plan in their head when they thought up the design instead of just picking up some pieces and building something. Colorful designs are one of the last things I worry about though when I am building. JoAnn has taught us to make sure it works and does its task efficiently and consistently first, then worry about if it looks good or not. Also, make it as part efficient as possible. Still, I think that more color and part variety would be an excellent idea, not just for girls either!
-Jake, age 14

Boy or girl, I think there would be some kids who would like the artistic challenge of colorful NXT parts. Isn't part of engineering the way something looks as well as how it runs? The problem I see about color for me is that you do have to be willing to coordinate the colors or your "colorful robot" will end up looking more like a blob then a "work of art." Maybe another person might enjoy this, I would not.
- Donovan, age 13

I'm a 13 year-old girl, and I enjoy building and programming robots. I don't think changing the color of the parts in the kit will encourage girls to buy the NXT. I prefer grey parts, because I don't need to think about what colors I'm using and if they go with the other colors. If there were two sets to choose from, one with grey parts and the other with "girl" colors, I would pick the grey set.

I asked my 7 year-old sister if she would buy a pink NXT set, because she likes to build with pink Lego. She said no. She doesn't enjoy robotics, so she wouldn't use the sensors or the NXT. If there was a set with pink parts, that didn't include the NXT, she might decide to buy the parts to build other structures.

I don't think changing the colors of the parts will help sell the NXT to more girls. But I think that having a choice between two sets, one set with dull, grey-black colors and one with blues, greens, and reds, would let builders construct more colorful designs for some people and less noticeable robots for others.
-Nora, age 13

I think that the NXT kit is just fine the way it is. It might be even better if they just had one shade instead of all different shades of gray. They might want to choose a brighter color though, because just like someone said in the blog, Apple is doing really well with all the different iPod colors and styles. It might be worthwhile to try different sizes and cost levels of NXT kits. That way, people could try it out, and if they liked it, they could buy the bigger sets.
-Bri, age 12

As a teenage girl who is interested in Legos, I may be able to at least offer one subject's view on your discussion. I play with NXT, and Legos in general, not because of the color or because everyone's doing it. I play with them because I enjoy building things. Since I am surrounded by open-minded people, I have never felt pressured to play with 'girly' toys instead. My suggestion for attracting more girls to NXT, or Legos, or even science in general, would be to tell them that it's alright. It seems to me, at least, that today's society has enforced a very definite boy/girl separation. The older generations were taught the girls cooked and boys tinkered, and as those generations are now in control of most media, they are, consciously or not, injecting that into what today's society sees. Though there are, as with everything, some exceptions, the general impression that girls just aren't supposed to like science is still implied. Those screaming ladies that always have to be saved by the intelligent men are still around (ever seen a screaming guy saved by an intelligent woman?). Though movies are slowly getting more intelligent women, who actually know science and mathematics, they are still usually portrayed as unattractive dorks who have the social skills of a rock.

Thus, my suggestion would be to assure girls that it's alright for them to be interested in science. While I'm sure they don't consciously think that an interest in science and the like is taboo, it is probably in their subconscious. Please don't try to sell them science with color. The girls I know (the ones who are interested in science) would probably wonder if that was the only good thing about science - that it's in color - and the girls that would be interested simply based on color probably wouldn't be there for the science. In that case, if a science-oriented girl came into the class and was met with a bunch of girls whose only interest is color, the science girl would probably be discouraged. Is that really what other 'science' girls are like? If so, does she really want to be a science girl? The answer would most likely be no, and you would have lost another scientist.
-Katie, age 14

Some have suggested adding color to Lego to market science to girls. Girls are indeed attracted to color, but so are guys. The major question here, is would the introduction of color to the NXT kits attract more girls? I’m not sure that it would.

Girls have a tendency to be attracted to activities and products if they’re colorful and visually attractive. They’re more concerned that they get a red ‘cute’ car than one that can go from zero to sixty in three seconds. Having a tendency to be more concerned about the outward appearance of a product than the product itself, females won’t be very initially attracted to something puke green and boxy even if it is a phone that can play music and check email. But if there is a girl who is already interested in a phone that does those things, she might be inclined to look past its appearance get the phone anyway. However, if the phone costs hundreds of dollars, she probably won’t buy it regardless of its color.

Girls’ interests are also influenced by their environment and upbringing. Someone whose mother or father was a reporter or news anchor, will probably be more attracted by the visual aspect of an object. On the other hand, a girl whose parent(s) were engineers will likely pay more attention to the specifications and performance of a product than its visual appeal. Guys tend to be more like the latter.

Males aren’t driven by the sensual aspect of the things in life as much as girls and are more concerned that the Corvette goes from zero to sixty in three seconds than the fact that it is neon green. However, the neon green aspect will bother most guys, but if the car is right, a guy will usually ignore the color and get the car anyway. We are attracted by colors too, but on average prefer darker color schemes. Using the NXT parts, I try to make all of my creations at least uniform in color, preferably black and dark gray. Some people may enjoy the NXT kits in more colors, although I would probably stick to the darker schemes.

Keeping all of this information in mind, would the addition of more colors to the NXT components make it more appealing to girls? I think it would make it more appealing to everyone. But first, we need to consider this question; why are girls attracted to products like the NXT in the first place? From my limited experience it is because they enjoy that type of product (in this case robots) and not necessarily because of its colors. Girls I know who use the NXT like it because of its capabilities and the fact that it has or doesn’t have color is either a bonus or a minor disappointment.

Since NXT’s aren’t extremely cheap, one has to be interested in the product itself in order to make the purchase worthwhile. I think color would make the NXT more aesthetically appealing; however people who aren’t interested in Lego or robots will not buy the product even if it is the most appealing thing in the world. Apple is a great example of this. Ipod used to come in one color, white. Then they produced some in black and a myriad of other colors. If someone didn’t want an mp3 player, would they buy one from Apple because it had color? Probably not. However if there was someone debating on whether to buy a Microsoft Gigabeat or an Ipod, color might be the factor that determines which product he or she chooses.

Colors will indeed sell more of a certain product within its type of product, but color will not bring in a new customer from outside the market. So in this case, people who are interested in Lego and Robots might buy the NXT kit over another similar product if it had more color. However the NXT has almost zero competition in the robot market except for the RCX, which it has replaced. So in my opinion the introduction of color to the NXT kits will not attract more girls or even help sell more of the product. However if the scientific community were on average to make it’s products more aesthetically appealing, girls will be initially attracted and some might try out some of it’s products and discover that they might actually like engineering or similar professions. So color will probably help make science more appealing to females, but will not attract more girls to the NXT.
-Bryson, age 18
Wow... that's a great response.

I love that the girls rolled their eyes... many times adults (and males) think that for women, it's all about the color or look of something... good to know that the girls are seeing through this and are more interested in not bogging things down with blotchy colors in a robot... hmm... I guess style is some part of it though.

Please tell your class that we appreciate the response... and I'm sure LEGO does, too. They tend to lurk and read comments and posts, so thanks again for all your thoughts.

Erin Howarth said…
My five-year-old daughter pours over the LEGO catalogue whenever it comes to the house. I won't buy her any sets not recommended for her age, so she mostly focuses on that and picks out her favorite sets: Belville and City. But she finds many of the other sets fascinating and asks me how old she has to be before I'll buy them for her. The Mindstorms NXT robot is on her wish list. Currently the cataglogue shows three possible models: a robot that looks like a person (very cute), a robot that looks like a scropion (very cool), and a robot that looks like a bit of construction equipment (very tough). If LEGO wants to try to sell more of these things to ten-year-old girls, I recommend an expansion pack (or something) with instructions to build a puppy-shaped robot. Puppy-shaped robots from other manufacturers are very popular in toy stores (so are dinosaurs, but not with girls, specifically). Nano pets were very popular among girls once upon a time. They weren't exactly robots, but I think the appeal was that they could react to and interact with the child. If NXT can react to lights and sound, it would be great if it could react with light and sound, too!
Fay Rhodes (one of the blog contributors) has a book coming out next February that I think you and your daughter will find very interesting - it's all about building animals with the NXT kit and the main audience for the book is younger kids (under age 9-10) who can follow very easy-to-read instructions. I've seen portions of the book and it's amazing.


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