We’re now well into the digital age. As technology changes, new possibilities for managing our economies, our relationships, and our societies emerge to reflect those technological advances. The industrial revolution saw the rise of urban culture and the power of the factory. We’re lucky enough now to see what revolutionary changes will be brought about by the power of digital technology.
While the industrial revolution was about energy, the digital revolution is about networks. The Internet is changing everything. One of the most exciting new potentials of the digital age for entrepreneurs and designers is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourced design contests, crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and even open-content resources like Wikipedia all reflect this new power of connectivity.
So, what is crowdsourcing, and how exactly does it help to propel innovation in product design and marketing?
What Is Crowdsourcing?
“Delegating a task to a large diffuse group in order to introduce new or more developed skill sets and improve efficiency.” – Wiktionary
Crowdsourcing means looking to “the crowd” for solutions to your design problem or project. The word itself is a combination of “crowd” and “outsourcing”, though really it is quite different from conventional outsourcing. The main defining feature of crowdsourcing is that the organizer of the crowdsourcing project doesn’t typically pay for the proposals and submissions they receive. These are offered up by the community (or crowd) without charge. This doesn’t necessarily mean people can’t make money from the crowdsourcing model, but it is a pretty radical departure from the conventional approach to hiring that we all became accustomed to before the digital age.
According to a 2015 report on the state of crowdsourcing, 85% of the world’s top brands have turned to crowdsourcing during the past decade. Crowdsourcing comes in different forms, from design firms seeking public input for their next product and responding to feedback, to organized crowdsourcing challenges where a diverse group of designers, engineers, writers, and creators submit their proposals and compete to be selected as the winning entrant.
Crowdsourcing can consist of anything from asking for feedback or looking for suggestions, to putting out an open call for design submissions that have a chance of actually being pursued. The defining characteristic of crowdsourcing is to open up a project to contributions from the collective.
So, crowdsourcing is pretty broad. At Cad Crowd, we focus on the potential of crowdsourcing to enhance CAD design projects and to provide engineering and design solutions for entrepreneurs and companies. Design is a field that lends itself very well to crowsourcing, both because of the nature of the work and potential for innovation which a large field of contributors allows. In crowdsourcing design contests, designers submit their proposals not as an act of kindness, but because they hope to be selected as a winning design, to challenge themselves, and to win the contest’s prize (and potentially to score a longer-term design contract).
Harnessing the Design Potential of Networks: Why Crowdsource?
So what’s the point of crowdsourcing? What are the advantages to crowdsourcing over the conventional design process with a team of connected designers working together towards the common goal? Why would you want to run a crowdsourcing campaign, and why would designers be interested in submitting proposals that aren’t guaranteed to make them any money?
There are a number of reasons why an individual or a company might turn to crowdsourcing. What it all comes down to is strength in numbers. Crowdsourcing provides a wide range of different solutions to a single design problem. While with a conventional design team of a few competent designers might produce a few workable ideas to start with, a crowdsourcing campaign could produce dozens or even hundreds of solutions. It’s an explosion of creativity that is made possible by the connectedness of digital citizens.
It’s an explosion of creativity that is made possible by the connectedness of digital citizens. With the quantity of submissions and ideas generated by a successful crowdsourcing campaign, there’s bound to be some unforeseen bit of ingenuity or creative problem solving that a smaller, conventional design team might never have come up with.
It’s not just that you’ll get a whole lot of ideas in a short period of time. The key is diversity. With crowdsourcing, you’ll not only have ideas coming in from people in places all over the world, but ideas from people with diverse skill sets, experiences, and approaches to design. Crowdsourcing gives you access to a far wider variety of perspectives than you would ever find in a single room. Maybe you wouldn’t have thought to hire an architectural designer for your mechanical part, but inspiration can come from unexpected places!
The innovative ideas you can receive from crowdsourcing can inspire your design team to see your project in a whole new light, and produce solutions you might never have come to otherwise.
Opening the Floodgates: Reducing the Barriers to Entry
Another great advantage of crowdsourcing is that it opens up a wide world of design solutions to entrepreneurs and inventors who might not have access to the product design and market research resources of established firms. Like never before, small firms, startups, and entrepreneurs can access to a large pool of diverse design talent, just like the big players.
Of course, crowdsourcing isn’t just for the financially strapped — corporate giants from LEGO to Fiat to GE regularly turn to crowdsourcing for innovative design solutions — and it isn’t a way to get your product designed for free. But crowdsourcing can reduce the barriers to entry, allowing firms with limited resources to connect with a world full of designers, or to market their invention directly to the public and appeal to them as micro-investors.
What crowdsourcing design contests are for product design solutions, crowdfunding is to marketing. Crowdfunding allows for entrepreneurs to get direct feedback from their potential customers, while simultaneously spreading the word about their product and potentially raising funds to help bring the invention to the market.
Successful crowdsourcing campaigns still require investments of time and money. But they are much more scalable than the conventional design process, allowing more flexibility to maneuver for small companies and independent entrepreneurs. With design competitions, the organizer has the opportunity to set the prize amount at whatever level is appropriate for them and their project. While higher prizes tend to attract more entrants and will encourage designers to spend more time on their submissions, this sort of flexibility allows anyone who is serious about their project to connect with talented designers.
Competition and Collaboration
So what’s in it for the engineers and designers? Why would they be interested in contributing to a crowdsourcing campaign that might or might not result in them getting paid? Well, there’s a few reasons why being part of “the crowd” can be a great opportunity. And they all have to do with two sides of the same coin: competition and collaboration.
Engineers and designers are problem solvers. Crowdsourcing competitions provide an opportunity for them to test their skills and challenges them to come up with creative solutions to a complex problem. It provides an opportunity to work on some different projects which might fall outside of the type of thing they typically work on, giving them a chance to flex their creative muscles and try their hands at something new. And of course, every designer wants to be part of a project that might end up being a big hit!
The contributors also get the creative benefit of seeing what other people are contributing to the project. This is where the collaboration kicks in. Designers can be inspired by the proposals of others, and everyone can be inspired by the collective effort. The open atmosphere of a crowdsourcing campaign can encourage everyone involved to come up with the next best thing, to be that much faster, stronger, or smarter. Engineers and designers love see what others are doing, and to see how others have gone about solving a problem. What better way to compare strategies than in a design challenge?
Engineers and designers love see what others are doing, and to see how others have gone about solving a problem. What better way to compare strategies than in a design challenge? With that amazing diversity of talents and perspectives we talked about earlier, designers are bound to see in the submissions of others approaches and ideas that might inspire them in their own work.
And let’s not forget about competition! People like a good, old-fashioned challenge, and people like to win. It’s fun, it’s stimulating, and it can be financially rewarding, too. The spirit of competition can inspire and energize folks just as much as collaboration. People want to outdo themselves and to outdo their peers, and crowdsourcing design contests are a great outlet for this sort of constructive competition. Testing yourself against others is a great way to grow.
Finally, of course, there’s the money. The winners of design contests get to take the prize, set by the contest organizer. And who doesn’t like a bit of extra money?
Crowdsourcing As A Marketing Strategy
Crowdsourcing isn’t just a great way to come up with innovative design solutions. It can also be a great and cost-effective way to market your product. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding allow you to get direct feedback on your product design from the community for free. With a pulse on how the public might react you can make decisions on what direction to take your design in. And on top of that, crowdsourcing campaigns in and of themselves help to spread the word about your invention far and wide.
Sometimes, crowdfunding campaigns can be even more valuable as tools for building hype and spreading the word than they are for actually generating funding for the project. A successful crowdfunding campaign on one of the major platforms can be quite costly to run — you’re going to want to have something concrete to show the community if you expect your campaign to generate a buzz. But that buzz can be pretty significant if your campaign takes off and goes viral. As people get excited about your project, they’ll want to share it with their friends, and you’ve got yourself an organic marketing campaign on your hands!
Crowdsourcing platforms are part of a broader range of digital tools available now to entrepreneurs for building excitement and awareness of their product by interfacing directly with their potential buyers. Combined with social media, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding offer powerful, low-cost direct marketing possibilities for modern entrepreneurs.
To see crowdsourcing in action, head over to the Contests section of our website, or you can browse some of the images in our Gallery. Take a look at some of the successful campaigns. Maybe you’ll be inspired by the designs you see there, or maybe you’ll want to launch your own design challenge and harness the power of crowdsourcing yourself!