Crowdsourcing Design

collaborative and competitive design processes in large open online communities


My PhD thesis at the Royal College of Art investigates the impact of the open-source-movement on modes of production in contemporary design with a focus on the methods of crowdsourcing and open innovation. While innovation has always, to some degree, been the result of collaborative effort, websites specifically created to attract large communities and harness their creative output are a new feature of the organisation of the practice of design. In recent years, dozens of platforms for the crowdsourcing of various design tasks have emerged, with hundreds of thousands of designers as contributors.

The thesis examines the history of online collaboration, comparing older visions of collective intelligence with practical applications in graphic, product and service-design today. At its core, the study takes an ethnographic approach in the course of which several platforms for crowdsourcing in design are analysed through participant observation. The results are triangulated through a series of interviews with different stakeholders.

The study investigates the limits of open approaches in the field of design. As Linux and Wikipedia prove, open online collaboration on a massive scale can be very successful. But software-development and knowledge production are significantly different to design in several ways. These differences are examined in the thesis to ask: Is the open approach really transferable to the domain of graphic and product design?
The goal is to better understand the creative and social mechanisms used by these platforms in order to motivate contributors and to understand this emergent commercial model for commissioning design. What is the balance between collaboration and competition in crowdsourced design? How is the decision making process in the development of a design solution organised? When a successful design is the product of multiple authors and numerous unsuccessful proposals, the redistribution of revenues generated by these businesses to the ‘community’ of designers is of particular interest. Can crowdsourcing be applied to design in a way that is fair and sustainable to all stakeholders?

Royal College of Art
Critical Writing in Art & Design,
Supervisors: David Crowley, Monika Parrinder