U.Lab explores the crowd as design partner at Groundbreaker

There was wine, cheese, crackers, butcher’s paper and markers—obviously some audience participation was on the agenda at Groundbreaker [web archive]. This series has been instigated by U.Lab [web archive] out of the UTS design school. Each week will cover a topic related to collaboration, innovation and design practice. This week’s was crowd sourcing:

Is the crowd a feasible design partner?

Well obviously this horse has already bolted and we can safely say “the crowd” has proven itself.

Ele Jansen, David Gravina of Digital Eskimo, and Eric Folger, the innovation design principal from AMP gave short presentations but mostly the evening was about getting into groups, having discussions and recording our thoughts.

Group work notes

Questions raised during the night included:

  • What are we expecting from the crowd?
  • How do you control what comes from the crowd?
  • Is crowd a misnomer? Should we be defining and engaging community?

And questions I was interested in:

  • Who owns the idea?
  • What are the ethics of using the crowd?
  • What are the motivations of participants?

Consensus about “the crowd” reached during the evening:

  • Listen but set the rules of engagement.
  • Don’t fear attitude.
  • Embrace the crowd – they are uninhibited by conventional notions of design practice.

But I would like to end this post with one of the last questions asked.

“What if you don’t have time to ask the crowd?”

I was concerned that this attendee thought it mandatory. It begs the questions when do you ask the crowd?  Ele Jansen responded that it all depends on the channel you use. She is right of course – there are so many ways to engage with users and customers. The danger is conflating meanings – does engagement via every social touchpoint become synonymous with crowd sourcing? I don’t think it should otherwise the dedicated crowd sourcing spaces lose the specificity of their meaning and purpose as we try and label every input and interaction as design and design process.

It was a provocative and energetic evening. I only wish there was more time to tease out the ideas raised. I will definitely be checking out more of the series.

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