camel 300x283 How To Effectively Crowdsource Product DesignGod I love the Internet. Never before in human history have we been able to experience the democratization of knowledge in such a viral, rapidly-evolving way.

The Internet has instigated innumerable actions, which have spawned human innovation and creativity. In 2008, we wrote about harnessing the wisdom of the crowd. One of the Internet’s best uses is its ability to harness the masses, to crowdsource opinion in hopes of innovation (gotta love Wikipedia). But the two words together- “crowdsource and innovation” could make some experts cringe. It’s true, there’s something unsettling about their juxtaposition. But as long as CEOs and product developers keep their wits and effectively vet from the pool of crowdsourced ideas, they can avoid winding up with a camel. Here are three great examples of crowdsourcing in product design.

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Fiat

This October, Fiat, Brazil’s most popular automotive brand called upon the powers of crowd-sourcing to build a new car under the project name Fiat Mio. Working with Sao Paulo-based digital agency Agencia Click Isobar, Fiat built a web platform and assembled a group of contributors “that outstripped their expectations.” Fiat’s website received over 10,000 suggestions from over 160 countries, which were then vetted by the team at Agencia Click and presented to Fiat. Suggestions included what people want most from their cars – like size, environmental specifications and entertainment options. This worked because Fiat is a brand that people really love, in fact, according to Fiat, its customers “are more guardians of the car than creators.”

Peter Fassbender, manager of Fiat’s Centro Estilo and responsible for the brand’s design in Brazil explained: “A good designer tries to realise the wishes of everyone, and with this concept car we were truly working on everybody’s behalf. The group of designers working in the Fiat Mio house were totally open. There was transparency about every decision, which were all communicated online and commented on. This is completely different to the usual design process, which is entirely hidden and secretive.”

Agencia Click’s Creative VP, Raphael Vasconcellos de Oliveira, added: ‘The most important output for the brand was learning the benefits of listening to its consumers. The creatives at Fiat and in the agency didn’t have control of the process, but things are richer because of the passionate contributions.’

Crowdsourcing opinions forces companies to listen to all feedback, particularly the negative, and deal with truths about how the consumer sees the brand. Fiat’s project demonstrates a genuine desire to initiate discussion with its consumers, which resulted in a car that buyers want to drive. Talk about a sense of ownership.

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StyleFactory

StyleFactory is an e-commerce site based in New York City for furniture design that brings newer European, Scandinavian and American designs, normally found in a boutique setting, to an online market. The company uses social media in really creative ways, crowdsourcing opinions to decide which products should be made. Online democracy is essential to StyleFactory’s production and sales experience. The ‘My Factory’ section offers a mix of renderings and finished products that community members can vote “make it” or “drop it,” then share their opinions via Facebook and Twitter.

StyleFactory also utilizes the methods behind group buying that have made companies like GroupOn and LivingSocial wildly successful. The most popular products go into the “Buy” section, and once enough people have promised to buy the object, it goes into production. The trick is, the product won’t be made unless a certain number of people commit to the purchase. With products like furniture it’s vital to achieve a minimum order to guarantee a good price or to make it feasible to make the product in the first place. StyleFactory’s Buy section brings people together to fulfill those minimum orders. “We’re building an audience so that we can fulfill larger and larger thresholds while making great design affordable,” says George Casey, StyleFactory’s CMO.

Quirky

Quirky is a website that enables people with bright ideas to become inventors without dealing with the financing, engineering, distribution or legalities associated with such an undertaking. Anyone can upload an idea to Quirky for $10 and then anyone in the Quirky community can respond to the design. The best designs become the “product of the week” and products that then secure enough buyers, a la StyleFactory, get a chance at production. When a product is complete and starts making money, 30% goes back to the Quirky community, a portion of it to the “ideator” and the rest to those who commented on the design during the one week community vetting period. This financial incentive encourages the Quirky community, now at 45,000 members, to stay active.

The site, which Fast Company describes as an “interesting mishmash of a bunch of concepts that have been floating around in social media,” launched in 2009 and has spawned 80 products so far, 28 of which are being sold at retail stores worldwide, and is now averaging production of 2 products a week.

Products include The Slingback, a universal wire retractor that eliminates loose power cords and costs $9.99, The Pivot Power, a “creative outlet,” The Scratch and Scroll, noteable mousebad and this ergonomic dog leash.

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According to Ben Kaufman, the CEO and founder of Quirky, crowdsourcing alone doesn’t work. The idea that the world community is smarter than a band of experts isn’t sustainable. ”It’s experts and the community working together that works stunningly,” explains Kaufman. And the relationship works both ways. “People calling our expert designers out on their work makes our expert designers better. And our designers make the world smarter,” he says. The world influences Quirky’s business in real-time, and they share revenue directly with the people who helped make successful decisions.

See Quirky’s video of how they operate here:

On the Internet, anyone can be a designer. Design your next pair of heels at Dream Heels. Design your own Lego set. Or if you think you’ve really got talent, enter for the Muji Award International Design Competition. Just remember the old saying: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.” Using the Internet to source for great ideas and inspiration is what it’s there for, but a careful vetting process by experts is necessary to produce a product worth making.