When Jens Nygaard Knudsen was looking for a job, he found an advertisement for a job position as a model builder at The LEGO Group in a local Danish newspaper. His first task was to build hundreds of small LEGO Town cars in different colours. These models were along the lines of sets 605 Taxi and 420 Police Car. Jens designed much of the early "LEGOLAND" branded LEGO Town sets, along with almost all of the Basic sets.
As time went on, Jens was assigned to make bigger sets including the Fire Station, Police Station and the Hospital. He came up with the idea to include rooftop heliports on these sets—an idea still being incorporated in sets today.
In the 1970s, there were only few LEGO set designers, so Jens, along with his colleague Bent Irving Andersen, developed the early electric train system (with blue tracks and white sleepers). Some of Jens' favorite trains he's designed include 182 Train Set with Motor and 7710 Push-Along Passenger Steam Train. When making the 'Basic' themed sets, Jens always wanted to push a futuristic style, as seen in set 733 Universal Building Set and 744 Universal Building Set.
In the 1970s, Jens designed over 50 concepts for what would later become the LEGO minifigure. Jens and his colleagues decided to make LEGO minifigures yellow to be racially neutral. In 1978, Jens articulated minifigure design was patented and produced by the LEGO group, and all minifigures to this day use this design.
Jens also created the LEGO Space theme, designing the first space sets 358 Rocket Base and 367 Moon Landing. At the time, it was difficult to make a lot of colour changes, and grey LEGO elements were not considered bright enough to be the main colour in a toy, so after some experimentation, Jens decided that blue looked technical enough, and the sets were produced with this colour predominant.
Later in 1978 and 1979, LEGO was rushing to get LEGO space and the minifigure ("LEGO men", as they were referred to by the company) onto store shelves as soon as possible, to be the first space-oriented construction toy on the market. The LEGO Group pushed Space sets onto American store shelves in 1978, more than six months before originally planned. In 1979, LEGO debuted the Space line at the Nuremberg Toy Fair, being a huge success, and voted "European Toy of the Year 1979". The success of the new line of products helped LEGO to hire 500 extra production employees that year, and earned Jens a promotion to Chief Designer. He would serve this role up until his retirement in 2000.
He passed away at the age of 78 on February 19th, 2020.
- Stafford, Mark J. "The Truth About SPACE!" BrickJournal: Issue 6, Volume 2 Summer 2009: 38-43. Print.