LEGO has produced more than 4000 different Minifigures. Their variety approaches the one of small biological systems. Similar to pre-gentic biologist, we need a taxonomy to order the Minifigures. Several online communities, such as Peeron, Bricklink, Lugnet and Bricksets have created such taxonomies, which are based on the LEGO themes of the sets in which the Minifigure appeared first. If, for example, a new LEGO sets in the theme “SpongeBob SquarePants” contains a new Minifigure, then this figure will be put in the category “SpongeBob SquarePants”.
This does seem like a pretty easy system, but it also faces problems. First, the number of themes has grown dramatically. It would be very confusing if the taxonomy would have only one level, based on the themes. Second, some themes, such as Town and City, have so many sets, that it appears necessary to use sub categories. Third, not all sets can be associated to a theme to start with. In particular the very early sets did not even have specific themes. Last, the different communities have not agreed on a standard taxonomy.
I therefore reviewed the different taxonomies and tried to distill their specific advantages into a new LEGO Minifigure Taxonomy (interactive map). A static image of the taxonomy available below.
Its main new features are:
- All figures that do not have a standard torso, such as Duplo and Basic, are part of the category “non standard torso”. REVISION: non-standard refers to the scale of the figure. A Star Wars robot would still fall into this category, but not a Technic or Duple figure.
- All licensed themes, such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, are part of the category “licensed”
- Themes that try to mimic realty are part of the non-fictional category
- Themes that include fantastic elements are part of the fiction category
- Themes that try to realistically mimic historical periods are part of the “historical” category
- There is no distinction between “Town” and “City”
Besides categorizing the figures, we also need to have a nomenclature. The Linnaean taxonomy uses the the combination of a genus name and a second term. Of course we should not use Latin terms, as proposed by Linnaeus. We could us acronyms and serial numbers. Here is my proposal:
- aaa stands for the second last level in the taxonomy, for example stw for Star Wars
- bbb stands for the last level in the taxonomy, for exampel ep1 for Episode 1
- yyyy stands for the year in which the figure was produced first, for example 2001
- sss stands for a three digit serial number with preceedings zeros, for example 007
The advantage of this nomenclature is that distinguish between the older figures in the Town theme from the newer figures in the City theme. This is a first design and it is likely that I missed important aspects. I would like to invite you discuss this new taxonomy with me by posting comments through the boxes below.
7 thoughts on “Taxonomy for LEGO Minifigures”
1) It will be difficult to get people to agree to a taxonomy without it being in use in a utility like BrickLink/Peeron/BrickSet. The number of discontinuities is excessive, so you’ll need an authoritative source that people will agree with in order to mandate discrepancies.
2) I would recommend increasing the size of the “sss” serial number, or making it hexidecimal. For example, there are already nearly 200 in BrickLink’s database for Star Wars Episode 4/5/6, and I can’t imagine how many there would be under something like “generic” town. But this system needs room for growth if it’s expected to be enduring.
3) Some “minifigs” aren’t “minifigs” at all. R2-D2 is a character that most people would consider to be a “minifig”, even though it contains no actual minifig elements (torso, head, legs, etc). The “non-standard torso” category looks tempting for that, but doesn’t have the depth necessary, since you’d need additional “Star Wars” categories, which might be confusing (IE, is it the non-standard-torso Star Wars category, or the licensed Star Wars category?
The taxonomy structure is fine– but I guess the thing I’m wondering is why is this taxonomy any more helpful than assigning serial numbers to minifigs?
1) I agree with you and I am not sure how this can be achieved.
2) I do not think that they would bring out more than 999 figures per sub sub theme. Notice that the name also includes a year.
3) The category “non-standard torso” should be named slightly different. What I wanted to express is different scales. So a Star Wars robot would be in, but Duplo not, because it is bigger.
Ahh yes, I forgot about the year part– that certainly makes the 3-digit number usable.
Back to the big question I have though, does this method provide any benefit to assigning serial numbers to minifigs? For instance, BrickLink already does this with SOME respect to themes– “sw028” is one variant of R2-D2, “pm026” is a Power Miners figure, etc.
What I think I’d like better would be some useful way of breaking down figures, torsos, heads, etc. based on their component parts or printings. Currently, I have a logical scheme for sorting my minifig heads, for example:
1) Is it Yellow?
1A) Is it a standard smiley?
1Ai) Is it a solid-stud?
1Aii) Is it a hollow-stud?
1A) Is it double-sided?
1B) Does it have face-painting?
1C) Does it have a headset/microphone?
1D) Is it clearly a female printing? (red lips, etc)
1E) Does it have glasses?
1F) Does it have facial hair?
1Fi) Does it have a beard?
1Fii) Does it have a mustache?
1Fiii) Does it have stubble?
1G) Does it have visible hair?
2) Does it have printing?
2A) Is it flesh colored?
It works out reasonably, but I could easily imagine that there’s a better system that divides the categories more evenly, even if it’s just a matter of re-ordering things. And I can only imagine that would be a nightmare to do the same thing for torso printings given their disparate nature.
Anyway, for me, such a taxonomy would help with my home sorting techniques (and possibly others’), LDraw and (if they cared) LDD categories, and search engines. IE, “I have a minifig that I don’t recognize, what is it?”
Good luck. LEGO has rereleased several figures. The Gamorean from Star Wars comes to mind. When rereleased the figure has slightly different colored hips. Thus he is a whole new figure. These two figures are releated, but different. In a genetic world these would share a genera, but not a species. Not sure how to pull this off and show relations. If we look at the: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. The species would be the name of the figure, the genus would be a film name or some such, the family would be the theme, but I am not sure how to extrapolate beyond.
Also it would be nice to sort any alien. So perhaps we could move futher up the tree and make kingdom the theme and keep things like Homo Sapien sapien to allow all human figures to be grouped and have a sub speicies of yellow vs flesh. This would allow someone to search for aliens and group all the mars aliens with all the Star Wars Aliens. So you could easily see all the aliens LEGO has produced, which is not possible under current systems.
Phylum: Subtheme (specific movie, fire, police, something specific)
Class: Further Subtheme (some themes are VERY LARGE)
Order: Year Produced
Family: Sex (male, female, other)
Genus: Homo Sapien, Alien, etc
Species: Character Name
Sub-species: Yellow vs Flesh or N/A
I know the logic isn’t completely like the biological, but this way you could compair aliens, or all female, or just yellow, or by year. This isn’t possible on Bricklink or Peeron. I know I would love to look at only the female figures or only the alien figures.
Just my two cents.