What My Phone Stand Taught Me About How To Simplify

Posted by Ellane Weedon on

Dont get rid of all the LEGO® after your kids grow up: it might just come in handy.

My problem might just help yours

I work at a desk for hours a day, referring to my mini-computer (some call them smartphones) often, and for years I've searched for the perfect—cheap or free—way to prop my device up at the right angle for easy viewing.

At this point your eyes might be glazing over, but hang tight: useful life lessons came from the solution to my small frustration. Read on to see what these principles can do for you, and your classroom.

Do you love to simplify, to be creative, and to save money? Me too. I could have bought a purpose-built stand (saw some for $30, others for $3) but having DIY in my genes—and having grown up watching MacGyver—I was determined to find a way with what I had around me, so I just put up with less than adequate solutions. For those wondering – no, a cassette case opened back on itself did not do the job well. Maybe I just didn't keep hold of the right kind.

The Solution: Simplify!

The idea of using LEGO® to create a phone stand hit me one day while doing something else. My first prototype was big and clunky, but I was so proud of it! For about 2 hours. Then my inner tinkerer kicked in and made one half the size that still worked. Simplify has been my mantra for the past few years, and may well be for the rest of my life. Keeping this in mind, several versions later I had a pocket sized stand that was sturdy and could hold my phone at two different angles, portrait or landscape.

4 phone stands made from LEGO®
Here are some versions of the stand I made. Excuse the grot.

Was I a pioneer in the field of LEGO® stand-making? I decided to find out. Turns out that others have already trod this path, making me wonder why it took so long to see that the answer was there all along.

Thanks @kevinfreitas for these clear diagrams ! While I saw Kevin's work after completing my own, I did pick up some tips to further simplify the design I like to use the most.

Simplify: front on photo of an iPhone X on a LEGO® stand, with Plutio on the screen
This LEGO® is old and not the cleanest, but it works ! That's Plutio on my screen, by the way.
Simplify: side on photo of an iPhone X on a LEGO® stand
This is the one angle version. It's small, and does a great job.

A Sense of Accomplishment

I can't tell you how good it feels to put your brain to a problem, and come up with an elegantly simple solution that gets out of the way and just works. The sense of accomplishment wasn't diminished in my case by discovering that I've merely recreated what others have done, because I got there under my own steam.

A Deeper Philosophy

There's a deeper philosophy behind this process that I have found summed up beautifully by the writer of the Second Skin Blog, as she speaks about her children:

I want them to grow up with the attitude "what I need I make myself", this way they will seldom have too much and cherish what they do have much longer and deeper than something bought in a shop. I want them to be creators rather than collectors.

5 Life Lessons Learned

Here's what I learned from my phone-stand experiments that can be applied in wider settings:

  1. Sometimes it takes years to realise that the answer to your frustration has been there all along.
  2. Purpose-built solutions aren't always the best option. When you have the choice, be a creator rather than a collector.
  3. The first solution you come up with usually isn't the best: try simplifying.
  4. Simplifying is great, until it isn't: learn when to stop (don't get so light-on that things fall apart).
  5. No matter how cool your solution, it won't be right for everyone. And that's ok!

Applying these principles to the classroom

Try challenging your students to come up with solutions to problems like this using blocks, or cardboard and tape. How will their creations change when you teach them the principles of simplification? Take some before and after photos to celebrate the process.

The same principles can help with lesson planning, and might just lead to some real productivity magic!

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