Product design is quickly becoming a group activity, involving not those tasked with the creation of the physical design and its manufacture, but consumers, hobbyists and would-be inventors as well. This emerging trend, referred to as the democratization of design, has gained traction, thanks in part to the Internet and new social tools and networks that more tightly connect companies and the customers and markets they serve.
Crowdsourcing, the process of outsourcing tasks to a large group or “crowd” of people—typically via the Internet—has the potential to drastically change the way companies stock their innovation pipelines. It offers companies a way to know if products will succeed in the market before those products are shipped. No more building products and waiting to see if the market will respond favorable.
Crowdsourcing goes beyond that, however. It enables organizations to leverage the wisdom and creativity of the masses to improve their own ability to innovate. It forces companies to rethink their own internal innovation process to recognize there is knowledge to be tapped from the general public, and to strive to offer that innovation back to the world.
Startups offer crowdsourcing platforms
A number of young startups have popped up in recent years, offering platforms that enable companies to take their internal struggles to a broader stage, and let the world have a crack at solving them. Smaller companies, without the budgets to tap their customers or a broader audience on their own, might do well working with a crowdsourcing expert or platform to jumpstart their efforts.
These software-based platforms enable both individuals and organizations to collaborate with the “crowd” via a three-step process. Users submit a challenge; the company collaborates with a network of “solvers;” and, if accepted, the solver gets paid for their work. You can find a list of all open innovation and crowdsourcing platforms on the Board of Innovation site.
Corporate giant General Electric has partnered with one such crowdsourcing platform, Quirky, to create the Inspiration Platform, a forum that invites people to innovate on technologies that GE produces. The site provides a list of patents inventors can access and apply to consumer products. Called “Wink: Instantly Connected,” Quirky and GE launched a co-branded development initiative to create a line of app-enabled products.
Though both companies say they are open to any new ideas, the primary focus is on home-automation technology, such as smartphone-controlled devices and “the Internet of things.” Inventors submit ideas and leverage GE’s vast array of security-and health-related patents.
Crowdsourced products hit the market
Though not intended to be comprehensive, let’s take a look at some excellent, real-world examples of companies that turned design power over to the crowd with wildly successful results.
The Fiat Mio. The world’s first crowdsourced car was conceived back in 2009 when Fiat Brazil invited people to help design its next car. The results: more than 11,000 ideas were submitted over Twitter and Facebook from 120 countries. By 2010, The Mio concept car was launched and has since won numerous car show awards. Check out this video, Fiat-Making of Project Fiat Mio—A care for the future (in Portuguese with English subtitles).
V-Moda Crossfade M-100 headphones. These cutting-edge headphones were built by 200 artists and voted on by 10,000 music lovers. The company collaborated with over 200 people (editors, artists, DJs, musicians, and audiophiles) to create these headphones.
Razer’s “Razer Edge” Windows 8 gaming tablet. The Razer Edge was designed by gamers. The company asked them to Tweet or post to Facebook the specs they would want on the proposed tablet. Over a 10,000 people weighed in on things such as the end-game chipset, weight/thickness, features and the price they would be willing to pay.