Lego Ninjago – digital anthropology & ciphers

The production design of Ninjago City extended to the crafting of a unique language for signage, shops and even building shapes. We had the idea that a cipher would be fun for kids to learn and translate. My starting point was shooting some unusually shaped bricks in silhouette, and then going through a process of abstraction and hand-drawing until I came up with a set of logograms that looked like simplified Chinese characters. I then created different fonts from those symbols that can be made to look like Korean, Chinese calligraphy, Kanji or even Arabic. When detailing the world at this level I feel we are like digital anthropologists, creating a culture with history and a belief system, and social rules, and part of that culture is language.

Below are some examples of the NINJAGON cipher I developed. Lego even built a special NINJAGO LANGUAGE TRANSLATOR page. It’s great when I hear that some kids are even using it as a secret code to write notes in school.