Silos changing: Crowd sourcing in product development

Posted on 21 Mar 2012 by The Manufacturer

This week, Cambashi's Mike Evans discusses social media in product development.

Experts at industry analyst and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog to TM titled Silos Changing. This series explores how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives in the new economy.

Mike Evans, research director, Cambashi

Companies are just beginning to integrate social media into their business processes. That will enable them not only to take marketing actions to protect and promote their values and reputation, but also to identify supply chain, or packaging or quality issues at an early stage.  In the long run, product designers will use social media to guide the features and functions they design into new products.

For a consumer, a product’s appearance, price, functions and features determine its appeal.  From Dyson cleaners to smartphones, we see again and again that new products from new market entrants gain market share rapidly at the expense of more traditional products.

The starting point of most of these novel products’ specifications came from inventor’s heads rather than market research. Most inventors’ products bite the dust rather than shoot to the stars. Getting the voice of sanity to combine with the inventor’s passion is difficult to achieve.  However, social media may improve the hit rate.

Crowdsourcing is the idea that a task can be accomplished by outsourcing it to an undefined network of suppliers, generally in parallel and generally using the power of the internet, rather than selecting a specific supplier for that task.  Problems are broadcast in the form of an open call for solutions to an unknown group of solvers who submit solutions. The broadcaster owns the solution and contributors are rewarded, usually with social standing in a community but sometimes with money.

The advantages of crowdsourcing in product design include verifying the specification to minimise the market acceptance risk; and finding solutions to design problems with increased participation and contribution.

Let’s Go Design  is a crowdsourcing marketing initiative from Dassault Systemès SolidWorks team.  This has been running a couple of years now and the latest project was to design a child’s pushchair that a Dad who thinks like Jeremy Clarkson would be proud to be seen using.

At the start of the project a small team of designers were set a budget and timescale with a small number of basic requirements.  An engaging video was used to first set the design challenge and recruit a crowd of designers who would be interested in contributing to the project.

As the design progressed, the team solicited input to the various design decisions needed and made a series of videos showing the design progressing.  The emphasis was on a fun way to show how to use SolidWorks rather than on how to optimize the design.

“Crowdsourcing is growing as a design philosophy, and the ‘Hot Rod Baby Buggy’ is a great example of how to succeed with collaborative design,” says Jeremy Luchini, SolidWorks certification manager and Let’s Go Design team leader. “We got a lot of great ideas from our viewers, and tackled some big challenges together, such as adhering the tank treads to the buggy.”

The hot rod baby buggy was on show at the SolidWorks world conference in San Diego last month.  It is not going into production but YouTube shows the final result.

Clearly there are many issues still to be solved: product liability; segmenting the design into sub-tasks; keeping information about products away from competition; and rewarding contributors.  The cost of crowdsourcing might be more than first expected.  Nonetheless, we do think that social media will provide designers both with a new way to understand the customer requirement and a means to satisfy it.

In future blogs, we will go on to write about some of the pioneering ways we have seen social media in other enterprise applications.