10K Club Interview: Meet Maia Weinstock of Women of NASA
This week's 10K Club member is none other than Maia Weinstock, a.k.a 20tauri, whose Women of NASA took LEGO Ideas by storm in the summer of 2016 - a blistering 15 days is all it took for her project to reach 10,000 supporters. Maia crafted a fun vignette series that all came together through a meticulously planned campaign to drive the supporters necessary to see this project move into the LEGO Ideas Review.
Help us congratulate Maia on becoming a part of the LEGO Ideas 10K Club!
- Where are you from?
I grew up in Pound Ridge, New York, and currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- How old are you?
I’m 39 years old.
- What do you study or do for a living?
I’m a science editor and writer. I currently work as the deputy editor of MIT News, the news office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- What hobbies do you have?
Aside from my addiction to designing custom minifigures, I enjoy photography, cycling, making music mixes (yes, people still do that!), participating in the Wikipedia community, reading, and watching films — especially documentaries.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
I played with LEGO as a child in the 1980s, but my connection to it faded as I grew older. I became interested again in late 2009, when I thought to make a custom minifigure of a friend who is a scientist. I subsequently decided to design more of these for other scientists, and to photograph them and put them online. I also began trying to meet up with scientists and engineers after I make a minifigure of them, and it’s always amusing to see their reaction. I’ve said before, and it’s really true, that I feel like Santa Claus when this happens, because even the most well-regarded, world-renowned scientists and engineers light up like a kid on Christmas when they see their minifig in person.
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?
It’s hard to pick just one! As a space nut, I certainly enjoy the Spaceport and Space Starter kits. I also really appreciate the Deep Sea Submarine and Volcano Crawler for highlighting other adventurous science-based careers. Most recently, I was happy to see the Fun in the Park set: It’s no secret that minifigs are my thing, so getting a set with 15 minifigs — including a baby and a person with a disability, both firsts as far as I am aware — was a real treat. Finally, I’d give a shout out to Olivia’s Exploration Car in the LEGO Friends line, which features not only the “I love science” tile that I gave Sally Ride in my “Women of NASA” set, but also a lovely astronomical observatory with which Olivia can explore the cosmos.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
I’d say there are two in particular:
Stuart Cromar (Stubot on LEGO Ideas) created a really smart set featuring Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, but more than the set itself, Stuart is extremely supportive of others, and certainly has been of me and my various projects. Thank you, Stuart!Another designer I admire is ThomasW, also on LEGO Ideas. Thomas has lots of projects on the platform, and while I have my favorites, they are all very professional and lovely, especially those in the space and astronomy realms. Thomas is also one of the most active members on LEGO Ideas, and I appreciate his support of pretty much everyone on the site.
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
I don’t frequent any particular LEGO blogs, but I do follow certain LEGO designers on Flickr. The individual I am always amazed by is Lynn, a.k.a. DigiNik13, whose photos of minifigure vignettes are always flawless. Lynn has a keen eye for detail and also highlights female minifigures quite a bit, which I really appreciate. And she’s very supportive of other LEGO photographers on Flickr as well!
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
This set combines several of my personal passions: space exploration, the history of women in science and engineering, and, of course, LEGO. In 2014, I curated an art exhibit featuring portraits of women in science, and for my part of the exhibit I mounted and framed individual minifigures of real-life scientists that I’d previously designed. They were a huge hit. So the frame part of the model stems from that idea, as I thought people might like to build their own display featuring minifigs of accomplished women in the STEM professions. The vignettes came second, and for those I wanted to contextualize each person in terms of her contribution to NASA history.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
The model isn’t particularly difficult to physically build, but I had some challenges finding the ideal parts for it. The globe, for instance, is a rather rare LEGO piece that’s hard to find. I considered adding a hanger to the coat rack in the Margaret Hamilton vignette — which stems from a famous photograph of Margaret next to her Apollo software — but none of the pieces I tried for that worked. Parts of the minifigures aren’t perfect — such as Margaret not having shoes — but I think they turned out pretty well considering what was available.
- How long did it take to complete the model?
The model itself didn’t take long to create once I had the pieces, but determining and finding the perfect parts took a while. Whenever I make new vignettes I scavenge for pieces from my (fairly modest) collection, even if they’re the wrong color, just to see how they’ll fit together. So I did that here as a scaffold. Then it was just a matter of finding and obtaining the parts I didn’t have yet. I did, however, make a number of additional tweaks to the set over several months, such as making sure each minifigure holds a utensil, which I didn’t have in the original version.
^ Maia ensured she got great photos of her project by using a seemless and neutral white background
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes?
I was absolutely elated when the project reached 10,000 supporters! I certainly hoped it would do well, but it was a wonderful surprise to see the votes pour in so quickly. The set clearly touched and inspired many, as it reached 10,000 supporters in just 15 days. The night on which it appeared we’d reach 10K I stayed up until something like 4:30 or 5 in the morning so that I could watch the 10,000th vote come in and announce it on social media right away. I didn’t get much sleep that day, but it was thrilling! I told my supervisor I’d be a little late to work that morning, and by the time I arrived, I had missed half of a meeting. When I walked into our conference room, meeting well underway, everyone immediately stopped talking and started clapping for me, which was very sweet.
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
291 if you include 10 minifigures, as pictured in the “full” set. If you include only five minifigures, it’s 270.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
For a set to achieve 10,000 supporters, I’d say in addition to the overall idea, you need to think a lot about your audience. Where will you reach out to find those supporters? Because after the first week or two on LEGO Ideas, a set can sit around and not be seen, if you’re not actively promoting it. So you really do have to plan to be proactive about getting the word out. To that end, I’d also say: Be sure your lead image is strong and conveys not only what the bricks look like but what the branding of such a product might look like. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should have a compelling design. Finally, take the time to plan your media and social media strategy. Make a list of all of the relevant outlets that might help you support your project, and write out the copy and select images to suggest for them to use. Create social accounts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram. And then put your project out there.
^ Maia shows how she meticulously planned her project
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas project (besides your own of course)?
There are so many creative sets to choose from. But certainly the one I was happiest to find on LEGO Ideas was the Female Minifigure Set — later renamed Research Institute — since I consider myself a champion of women in the sciences. I was a heavy promoter of Ellen Kooijman (Alatariel)’s design, and I was absolutely thrilled for her when it was selected to become a real product. That set, as well as the Series 11 Scientist collectible minifigure, which I also wrote about, really helped to influence how the public sees women in the LEGO universe.
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
It is incredibly rare for a company — much less a global powerhouse like LEGO — to crowdsource ideas from fans/customers/potential customers. I give LEGO Ideas a ton of credit for pushing the envelope in terms of giving the public a say in what ultimately becomes available in stores. I also value LEGO Ideas for simply being a platform where non-traditional set ideas can be seen and appreciated for what they are. I’ve seen on LEGO Ideas some absolutely brilliant designs, many of which could very well have been successful in stores.For those considering uploading an idea, I’d say: Give it a go! Even if your set doesn’t ultimately obtain 10,000 supporters, it’s a nice way to display your work to the community