Crowdsourcing — Design by Democracy

May 17, 2010

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crowdsourcing

What happens when you open up company decisions and projects to the masses? It’s called crowdsourcing, a community-based model for design, and proponents tout its potential to both increase creativity and save money for companies.

Crowdsourcing serves almost like an open call for designers and other participants. The term was first used in 2006, and the concept has gained converts thanks partly to technology and social media applications. One of the best-known examples is the website Threadless, which accepts ideas for t-shirts. Users vote on their favorite designs, and the winners are then sold through the website.

“The development of crowdsourcing, as a word-of-mouth vehicle, with indirect communication, has changed how we get information today,” says Drew Kinney, Web Design & Interactive Media Instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte.

Companies are taking advantage of the options afforded to them through Web 2.0, asking for input and ideas on everything from company names to logos to website elements to mobile phone applications.

The marketing firm Pyxl utilized crowdsourcing with its “Help Us Name Us” campaign, which sought submissions for a new company name. The campaign coincided with the company’s transition from a traditional advertising to full-services digital marketing firm, says Nicole VanScoten, Pyxl Public Relations Specialist.

“We used crowdsourcing as a way to make a normally time-consuming and cost prohibitive naming process streamlined and efficient, and we were able to show the power and value that exists in the online community,” VanScoten says.

That power came from participants in all 50 states, 52 countries, and six continents in just a two-week time period, according to VanScoten. The individual who submitted the winning name received an Amazon Kindle. Another Kindle was given away to a randomly chosen participant. Kindles sell for $259 on the Amazon website. The $518 price tag for two Kindles is significantly lower than what a company could expect to spend on hiring a firm to come up with a new company name.

Brandon Kessler is CEO/Founder of ChallengePost, “a marketplace for challenges” where individuals and groups can post challenges and crowdsource the solutions. The ChallengePost platform powered the NYC BigApps competition, which sought apps that would improve New York City, and a challenge from First Lady Michelle Obama for apps and games to improve childhood nutrition.

“We're about taking hard problems that people want solved, and opening them up to the public to get them solved,” Kessler says.

Crowdsourcing has become so popular that entire businesses exist to facilitate the process for other companies. Sarah Blue is in charge of market and community outreach for Chaordix, a business with a platform that enables other companies to do crowdsourcing. Blue says the movement is good for creativity.

“In my experience, it gives me exposure to way more people than I normally interact with and way more ideas,” she says. “It’s nice to try out different things and be part of many little projects. It sparks my imagination.”

Blue and Kinney both say that crowdsourcing can be a good experience for design students.

“By sharing and collaborating with a wider range of creatives, a student may begin to understand that they don’t exist singularly in a vacuum,” Kinney says. “They exist in a larger creative community … [with] resources beyond their immediate surroundings. They will also begin to understand that there is more to ‘community’ than the latest humiliating video on YouTube.”

crowdSPRING is another company in the crowdsourcing market. Company Co-Founder Mike Samson describes it as “a marketplace for creative services.” Creatives from around the world submit work in response to specifications of jobs posted. Job owners pick from the entries and that person receives payment.

Samson sees the global connections that crowdsourcing encourages as a way to support more creativity.

“Crowdsourcing allows people from all over the world to collaborate and compete on a level playing field,” he adds. “This diversity of talent and creativity — enabled by Internet technology — elevates creativity and the creative industries in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.”

Crowdsourcing will only get bigger as younger generations advance in companies, Kinney predicts.

“As more Millennial generation designers emerge into the workforce, they will require new channels, to express and develop their creative capacities,” he says. As the workforce turns over, he adds, crowdsourcing will no longer be seen as “a threat to protected information.”

Samson thinks good things will come from crowdsourcing.

“Crowdsourcing changes the formula of the design industry,” he says. “Now talented newcomers can compete with established professionals based solely on ability.”

 “No one knows exactly where we’re all heading with this,” he adds, “but we’re sure heading there fast.”

Author: Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite
Contributing writer for EDMC.

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