Me by Amy Corbett
Amy Corbett (MEng 2012), or “Brickmaster Amy” as she’s more popularly known, is a judge on the US TV show LEGO Masters, where teams compete to build imaginatively themed LEGO products to win a prize. Amy completed a dual degree in Product Design Engineering run by UofG and the Glasgow School of Art and is now based in Denmark, where she leads a team of product designers at the LEGO headquarters.
When you started working for LEGO in 2013, did you ever expect that media fame would come with the job? What are some of the nice and not-so-nice aspects of it?
Not at all, it was a total surprise! The nice side is the number of people who reach out to me to say what an amazing time they have with LEGO, especially little kids and little girls, actually, or their parents, who tell me they're so inspired by seeing a female designing and building with LEGO. The hard side is being a judge. You have to make tough decisions, send teams home. People let you know that they don’t agree with your decisions, sometimes not in the kindest way, so that can be tough.
Do you get recognised in the street?
When the show first aired in the US, I was getting noticed quite a lot. It's starting to happen here in Denmark too, but the Danes are very polite. They don’t make too big a deal of it, and sometimes I think people are just staring for other reasons – because I'm super tall, for example. The Danes like to play it quite cool, and it's nice to still be a bit anonymous.
What’s been your favourite challenge on LEGO Masters?
I loved the smash challenge, where the teams had to build something deliberately to be destroyed – that was a lot of fun. But my absolute favourite was the storybook challenge, when we had some children come in, they had to write a story and then our builders had to design what the kids came up with. One team had to build an elephant bursting through the ground on a sleigh with candy cane legs. There was a horse doing gymnastics, there was an angry carrot monster … it was very funny. That was what came out of the kids' imaginations, and they did an awesome job.
What's the most fun thing about working at LEGO?
It’s a very creative place, as you can imagine. The most fun thing is the days when you’re building cool things with people from other teams, being hands-on with the bricks. I run a team of around ten designers, so a lot of the time we’re brainstorming, bringing our different creations together to talk about what's working and what's not. So, having all these inspirational and amazingly talented people around me all the time is probably the best part of my job.
"I get inspiration from all around – TV shows, magazines, social media, just what's happening in the world around me. I see what LEGO creations people are making themselves. Then it's about sharing your ideas as much as possible and talking them through with the rest of the design team. When you bounce ideas off each other, they grow and get stronger.
How does it feel to watch an idea that you've had turn into reality and end up a product on people's shelves or in supermarkets?
It's very exciting. I went to the LEGO store in Glasgow shortly after one of my products had been released and there was a little girl hovering around the hairdresser set that I had made, saying to her mum, “maybe this one!”. I could not contain myself going up to her parents to tell them that I had designed it, because I was just so excited to see a little kid actually choosing the thing that I’d worked on.
Do you have a 'minifig' [a small LEGO figure] of yourself and did you have a say in designing it?
I have 'Amy LEGO Friends Ski Lodge'. I'd just come back from a ski vacation with my friends, and we were thinking it would be a cool theme to do in LEGO Friends. It was my first time ever skiing, but my team made this little character who's a pro skier – unlike me! – and she has an outfit based on a vintage ski onesie I had as well.
What is your favourite LEGO set of all?
Every time a new LEGO set comes out, I think, wow, this one's amazing. And I love some of the adult sets that we have out as well – we had a big focus on them during the pandemic. But the first set you work on has a very special place in your heart, so I think that Heartlake City Hairdresser will always be my most cherished set – the one that has pride of place in my house.
LEGO is very proud of its green credentials and has promised 100 per cent sustainability for its bricks by 2030 – where does this ethos come from?
I think as a family-run company, we care very much about what we’re doing to the environment and how we're impacting the world for the kids of tomorrow. We’re already a carbon-neutral company – we produce more green energy than we use. We’re careful not to ship air around the world and make sure that our boxes are actually filled with bricks.
"We try not to use single-use plastics in our day-to-day work, we've been making some prototype bricks from recycled plastic bottles and we have a 'Plants from Plants' initiative, where our LEGO plants are made out of sugar cane.
LEGO’s new headquarters is a very sustainable building, as well – what’s it like to work there?
It's an amazing, inspiring building to work in. As well as the solar panels and the use of recycled rainwater, we use sunlight to help heat the building, and it has a bumblebee garden on the roof. The number of bumblebees there is lovely, and there’s so much natural light in the building too.
What’s been your personal commitment to sustainability since working at LEGO – have you made any changes in your own life?
It's definitely something I think about more and more. I bike around my city as much as possible, I car-share to work with some colleagues. I do a lot of recycling, which is, luckily, very easy here in Denmark. I try to reduce the amount of meat I eat and avoid single-use plastics. I guess I just try and make it part of my life to think about what I'm doing and what impact it will have – and do I really need to use that plastic bag?
How easy has it been to adjust to life in Denmark after eight years, and what's been the biggest culture shock for you about living there?
There are lots of differences that I wasn’t really prepared for, the language being one. Danish is not the easiest language to speak or learn, and because everyone speaks great English, it's hard to use it in practice. At the beginning, my mum used to smuggle all kinds of things over in her suitcase because I was like, “I don’t like this food,” and “they don’t have good Cadbury's chocolate!”. She had to bring teabags over as well. It took me quite a few years to say, OK, I don’t need things from the UK, I'm settled here.
Amy’s memories of Glasgow
In my first two or three years, I was very much down the union, very social. We loved to go to Viper on a Wednesday night, but then when I reached my final two years – it was a five-year course – I was very studious. I think most people on our course were, actually – we spent a lot of time working on our projects.
Having a dual degree from the University and the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) was the best of both worlds. It was cool to be in two very iconic buildings. I love telling people now that I studied at the University, which looks like something from Harry Potter, and at GSA, with its beautiful Charles Rennie Mackintosh architecture. There were also two different perspectives – the very academic side that we had at the University and then the much more openly creative and pushing the boundaries of our minds side, at GSA.
I loved a little walk around the cloisters and the underground cafes down below. I was lucky I had a flat nearby so I used to pop back for a cup of tea in between lectures. But we didn’t have a lot of time – product design engineering was a very busy course. They kept us in class a lot!
Graduation was an awesome time. To graduate from such a beautiful university and have the photos in the cloisters afterwards was one of the happiest days ever. I’m so lucky to have studied in such a beautiful place. We’re all Glasgow graduates, my mum, my dad, my brother and me. I think that’s something that my parents, especially, love – that all four of us graduated from the same university.
Season 3 of LEGO Masters will soon be in production, and I am also thinking about what cool new opportunities will come out of LEGO Dots. One thing I would like to do personally – I don’t know if I should put this down in writing! – is learn Danish, finally, since I’m not very good at it. I’d also like to be able to spend some more time at home in Scotland. [Continuing the Danish theme, our secret city this issue is Copenhagen.]
Follow @brickmasteramy on Instagram.
This article was first published January 2022.