Can We Crowdsource Great Designs?

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by: Design Translator

I stumbled over an interview conducted in 1957 between Mike Wallace and Frank Lloyd Wright where he discussed his thoughts on the common man and designing for the common man.

Wallace: What do you think of the average man in the United States who has little use for your ideas in architecture, in politics, in religion?

Wright: Are you speaking of the common man?

Wallace: The average man, the common man, I think that you have sometimes called him part of the mobocracy—part of the mob.

Wright: He’s the basis of it. I think the common man is responsible for the drift toward conformity now. It’s going to ruin our democracy, and is not according to our democratic faith. I believe our democracy was Thomas Jefferson’s idea. I mean I think Thomas Jefferson’s idea was the right idea, but we were headed for a genuine aristocracy. An aristocracy that was innate, on the man, not of him…not this by privilege but his, by virtue of this own virtue, his own conscience, his own quality, and that by that we were going to have a rule of the bravest and the best. But now that the common man is becoming a little jealous of the uncommon man, as H. I. Phillips wrote the other day, “It’s getting to the point where” he said… “Well, what’s the punk got we ain’t got? He’s just got the breaks that’s all.” Now that’s going to ruin the common man, because the uncommon man is his vision. And I believe what you call the common man is what I call the common man, a man who believes in nothing he can’t see, and he can’t see anything he can’t put his hand on. He’s a block to progress.

This got me thinking about today’s big marketing buzz word Crowdsourcing or following the Wisdom of the Crowd or in Wright’s words the “Mobocracy”.

With the crowds making the choice or calling the shots in today’s Internet environment, it there an avenue for designers to leverage on this so that we can do genera breaking superior design?

There are those who believe in the idea of “Consumers as Creators”. They believe that by gathering the “Wisdom of the Masses”, we can finally design products that we can be sure they want. Or can we?

Like this post I wrote a while back: The appropriateness of getting your customer to design a product for you? I think this buzz word is a bit of a dud and grossly misinterpreted.

While Threadless, Cambrain House, Digg or StumbleUpon are great examples of Crowdsourcing systems, in my opinion, it actually leans more towards content selection, rather than content creation.

Wait a minute?

That’s right, Consumers are not really creating anything. The majority of them are selecting from a pool, which means it is a win situation for the consumer and owners of the Crowdsourcing system, but not so much the creators. Notice I used the term creators as they could be consumers as well. Which is where I think some of the misinterpretation problem comes in.

I would imagine that for every one cool Threadless T-Shirt made, there would be a majority of designs that quietly fall off the back of the bandwagon. So in this case where is the benefit to the creator?

But what about what Wright said? Do you think his amazing body of work is a result of listening to user? It does not really look like it, and it sounds like he did not care one bit. What about Apple? They seem to be very happy telling us what to like and we, equally happy, lap it up with little questions ask? Is there more to this equation? What about market research and critical insight?

Therefore, are the game breaking design solutions something what everybody wants (read mediocre/conformity or optimized) but may not need? Or something designers think we might need (read innovative but high brow) but may not want?

What do you guys think? I know that most of you would be jumping up and down at this time, but I’m thinking out loud here and am looking for what you guys might think about this issue. So do have your say!

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