Crowdsourced Design

What happens when our design choices become public domain

It used to be that the only time you saw the interior of someone’s home was when you got invited over. But living online has brought a proliferation of snapshots of spaces once kept intimate. As we tweet and upload images of our new headboard, reclaimed wood coffee table, or redesigned kitchen, our design choices become public domain. And because we are sharing the “after” shots of these design choices, it makes sense that if we crave the most “likes” for them, we crowdsource them. Given the Millennials’ tendency to strive to be part of a group and our technical agility, it makes sense that we’re the generation most likely to crowdsource our design choices. We’re doing this by starting Facebook conversations around paint color, or pinning design ideas on Pinterest and then only using the ones that get the most comments or “repins” from friends.  (In fact Pinterest is bringing in so much traffic and sales to other sites that it recently launched an open source analytics to show just how much shopping is happening in the space.)  As consumers look for more design savvy groups to crowdsource inspiration from, they’ll start conversations on design blogs, seeking advice in the comment thread. Sites such as Apartment Therapy allow us to comment on design choices we’re struggling with, so that others can help us make the right one. But don’t be fooled into thinking only Millennials are participating in this trend.  Like many other trends, our generation is passing our habits on to Boomer parents and Xer older siblings.

Groupthink is infiltrating professional designers as well. As a growing number of industrial designers seek funding for their designs on Kickstarter, design is being democratized at the production stage. The lone genius is slowly being replaced by the vision of the commune of intelligent design. In fact, when Tina Roth Eisenberg of the design blog Swiss Miss delivered her SXSW Interactive talk last week, she didn’t talk about her lonely road to designing. Instead she emphasized that she was part of a community, highlighting the connectivity of her Studiomates, her co-working space in Dumbo, and the way she incorporated feedback from her community into her app TeuxDeux. Then she introduced every member of her team, individually.  She concluded by showing a GIF of them doing a group dance. The group clearly was where she made her design choices. These days, chances are that before you’re invited over to a friend’s house, you’ve already been invited in. You’ve seen pictures of their newly upholstered thrift store find, the tiny house they built in their yard, or their new mid-century modern desk. You’ve been invited to “like” their designed life long before you were ever to dinner. Perhaps you were even part of the group that they were actively crowdsourcing opinions from. The real question is how this trend towards crowdsourcing will alter the design world–if at all.  One obvious way is that it could make design trends more pervasive as they are reinforced by mountains of “repins” and “likes”–meaning that design could at once evolve quicker yet become increasingly homogenous.  Or it could mean that hyper-niche designers could utilize the support of other like-minded folks to fund and create a market where one would have never existed before. To me the most likely scenario is a combination of these two possibilities, a world in which crowdsourcing design decisions creates a more homogenous look overall with secret pockets of truly forward-reaching design.

Maude Standish is the co-founder and managing director of Tarot, a Millennial trend research company. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MaudeChild.

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