New trends in design lead to new questions for OEMs. One is whether crowd sourcing can be a viable design process. The other is whether design lessons from small producers translate to large OEMs.
Crowd sourcing is one of those interesting terms that is used far more often than seems truly justified. What does the term really mean? The concept is simple, an expansion on the old "two heads are better than one" idea. With crowd sourcing, though, you're substituting dozens, scores, or even hundreds of heads for the single noggin of a designer.
It's a fascinating theory, but like so many aspects of teamwork, the effectiveness of crowd sourcing really boils down to execution.
If you think of crowd sourcing in terms of signal-to-noise ratio, the execution challenges become clear. Consider the sound of a high-school hallway between classes. Now, think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Handel's "Hallelujah" chorus. These are two entirely different sounds: The first is produced by a chaotic crowd, the second emerges from a similar number of folks making a guided, rather less-chaotic sound.
Now, apply that concept to product design and you have the difference between a bunch of random people talking about your stuff and successful crowd-sourced design.
Ele Jansen has thought about what it takes to make a successful crowd-sourced design effort, and has written about her thoughts at Good.com. She writes that there are four critical factors to consider if you want crowd-sourced design to succeed:
- Structure -- You have to have a plan in place that allows crowd sourcing to succeed. Don't know how? See the fourth point, below.
- Understanding -- You must understand what crowd sourcing can and can't do, what it can deliver, and how it can surprise you in good (and bad) ways.
- Attitude -- If you and your organization are all about control, then crowd sourcing just isn't for you. At all. Period. You have to have a flexible attitude if you want to work with a crowd.
- Education -- Crowd sourcing is, at its heart, about collaboration on a massive scale. Most organizations are, at best, semi-competent at collaboration. A move toward crowd sourcing can be the push your enterprise needs to educate itself and its employees about effective collaboration.
Of course, crowd sourcing has, to this point, been used primarily by small organizations -- companies that can't really afford a big design team. Can it work for a large organization? Depending on where you're located, a visit to one of the international DIY Days could help you figure it out.
While DIY sounds like an entirely individual or small-group activity, the conferences and study groups that surround these events could help you decide how (and whether) crowd sourcing might work as a design methodology for some of your projects.
Crowd sourcing for design isn't an "all or nothing" proposition. There are limitations to the approach, as well as significant opportunities. Consider trying a crowd-sourced approach, and use the experiment as an opportunity to learn more about your customers, your organization, and collaboration itself. Then let us know what you discover. It's the crowd-sourced way to go.