02/15/2012 03:18 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2012

Enhanced Design Research Performance Through Crowdsourcing

New design research paradigms, processes and methods are vital to an organizations' ability to sustain their competitive advantage. The days of open-ended budgets and years spent on a project before delivering results are gone. Our team's recent work in crowdsourcing shows that fast, inexpensive and quality research can be conducted though open innovation by integrating the research of small autonomous teams.

By applying an Inspirational Design Briefing and an iterative team and crowdsourcing procedure, our Design Quantification Lab initiative team experimented with fourteen crowdsourcing challenges, involving incremental to breakthrough innovation challenges. More than one thousand comments resulted from these challenges and provided paradigm shifting thoughts from professions ranging from artists and designers to venture capitalists.

When applying crowdsourcing, we found that it is important to target a challenge at key professions and group sizes. Certain professions gravitate towards humanitarian topics while business specific issues engage others. Larger groups tend to engage in incremental challenges, while smaller groups gravitate towards breakthrough challenges. An example of an incremental and breakthrough challenge would be: "What is Scandinavian Design" and "How can journalists assist in reducing gang violence?"

The findings also suggest that there is an inverted relationship between general interest in a topics (measured by the number of people forwarding or corresponding to The Huffington Post article) and their ability to reflect and comment on social network platforms.

It was important to the team that everyone contributing to the conversation benefit from its findings, so these findings were published on social media and submitted to scientific papers and international conferences.

Five of the challenges are posted on The Huffington Post and can be seen on:

The Best and Worst Design of the Decade (

Creativity in Animal Rescue (

How Journalists Can Help Design for Peace (

What Designers Say About Marketers (

How Marketing Researchers See Design (

So, how useful are ideas collected from external online crowdsourcing challenges? The five challenges we analyzed show that external online crowdsourcing provides excellent and useful insights and ideas. As expected, the difference in quality between individual comments ranged from a minimum value of "I like this," to paradigm shifting insights such as: "Introduce empathetic courses on animal ethics for local grade schools." The quality of some of the insights was on par with experts within the field examined. Several comments contributed to two scientific papers and in a matter of months, not years, tough research challenges showed substantial progress on a shoestring budget.