By Mark Wilson

Most data we study is presented in 2-D. And as clear as a pie or line graph can be, it’s still a once-removed experience, just something else you see on paper or a computer screen. You can’t grasp it or reshape it. You can’t really play with it. 

This bothered Dennis Pastor (executive director of performance excellence for WellStar Health Systems) and Tim Herrick (global chief engineer at General Motors). While their businesses were fundamentally different–one a health care nonprofit, the other a manufacturer of automobiles–the two former colleagues would consult with one another from time to time, and they both found themselves in need of a practical approach to visualization.

“We discussed on a Friday afternoon our frustrations with some of our reports not showing us what we really needed to see,” Pastor writes Co.Design. “We came to the conclusion that our processes were three dimensional but our reports were only two dimensional. We needed to see them 3-D; hand sketches were exchanged over the weekend and within the following week, GM had the first Lego prototype in use.”

Now GM is using Legos for problem resolution tracking. If a transmission block breaks during durability testing, they’ll file a traditional paper report, but the case will also be added to a Lego board. Legos in various colors denote the area of the vehicle, and the block size denotes the severity of the problem.

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