Serge Soudoplatoff – Co-designing with customers

In many sectors, customers are ahead of companies. Which means that customers are already networked. They are on discussion forums, they are on social networks, so customers are already networked. And this challenges many companies which think that they still must control design. If you want, I begin to see interesting examples of co-design. Co-design can be simple customization, and this, shoe makers have already done that, car dealers have already more or less done it ; you can start customizing your car on the internet, you can customize your shoe on the internet. At the other end of the scale, we may downright find models where the customer himself does the design, and the company manufactures it. These are models similar to Zazzie or FreeBeer. Here are communities, FreeBeer, which start by defining the recipes of beer they would like to taste. There are almost any model between those, with what I think is interesting, models of ideation and vote. Dell with IdeaStorm and MyStarbucks.

Where the community finally generates ideas, vote others’ ideas, and the company manufacture a number of these ideas. Here are two models which seem to me interesting and intermediary. But what is sure, is that companies are wrong in neglecting communities who design. I was always fascinated by an example, it is, there are discussion forums where, as soon as the Logan appeared, we could find a station wagon version of the Logan, what is called Photoshop tuning. In the car sector, communities love Photoshop tuning. So for me there is… I am mentioning another example, a community of people residing in the neighborhood of the Forum des Halles, who didn’t agree with the Mayor of Paris redevelopment plan, and who organized a redevelopment contest on Second Life.

So, what I think is that, more and more, we will find two extreme syndromes, which have to be avoided.

The first syndrome is “I do the design and you, community, you shut up”. In fact… many companies operate like that, so when it is Apple, they are forgiven, since their design is so beautiful that we stay open-mouthed with admiration, but, except they had the stroke of genius to create the appstore. On the other side, you find the Lepine competition. “Well, this guy has a brilliant idea, let us implement it”. The interesting thing is that, when a community does design and, I would say, talks about design, this makes for a lot of potential customers. I strongly believe in the emergence of these kinds of co-design.

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