Crowdsourcing design: what will this mean for museums?

Across the online environment, there is growing engagement with user-generated content which impacts on designers as they move from sole author and producer to facilitators of the design process. User-driven and open innovation models of collaboration are impacting on the design and development of services and while there is a growing body of theory exploring the basis of this innovation, there are few models for the way in which designers will practice within this environment.

We are currently witnessing transformations in the ways in which clients engage designers and the ways in which designers participate in the development of products, services and experiences. These transformations in design practice are closely aligned to changing audience expectation and a growing demand for user participation in the design process. This is in keeping with a shift from the development of a service to an experience economy. (Gilmore & Pine 1999, Rivkin 2000)

The notion of experience enterprises has been coined in response to the experience economy. It encompasses those enterprises, both commercial and publicly funded, which have at their heart, the mandate to attract new audiences/ consumers/ producers through the development of integrated, multiplatform experiences. For example, both Nike, with its hugely successful Nike + social networking campaign which facilitates the development of communities of runners worldwide and Flickr Commons, the photo-sharing facility developed for cultural organisations to share archival imagery focus on adding value to existing services by creating and sharing in memorable experiences.

In the museum environment, it is sometimes suggested that audiences/creators and producers are willing to pay more for products and services if these are provided in an atmosphere that generates ‘memorable’ experiences. If this is the case and designers have yet to explore the impact of the user/creator on their practice, what will it mean for the development of future museum communication programs?

This posting is a starting point for problematising a broader shift in consumption and production, recognising the profound impacts that these shifts will have on future design practices and in turn, the ways in which they will affect museum programs.

Some of the questions it seeks to explore include:
How will social networking affect design as an enterprise?
What will this mean to organisations which engage designers?
Will services and experiences converge?
Who will drive new models of design innovation?
How will innovation drive new audiences/clients?

This thought-piece hopes to explore the demand-driven environment for design innovation, supported by establishing partnerships throughout the value-chain of development through a participatory process of design which seeks to engage both audiences and users in the design and development of cultual interactive experiences. I am very interested in gaining insights from our community into how this might develop over the next few years. Please feel free to leave a comment here or on twitter. I look forward to your feedback.

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33 Responses to “Crowdsourcing design: what will this mean for museums?”


  1. 1 Walter September 22, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Interesting topic with special relevance to our business. I believe that there are several issues here that we need to consider.

    First, crowdsourcing design may result in the dilution of a museum or institution’s unique identity and image. One of the key elements of a museum’s identity stems from the design of its exhibitions and how they fit into the configured spaces of the institution while bearing the signature of the museum. As it is, the mounting of “blockbuster” exhibitions from leading collections around the world have already resulted in some form of “McDonaldization” or “Disneyization” of museums. I believe that the crowdsourcing of design (through the best value-for-money bidder) may accelerate the commoditisation of the museum experience.

    Second, crowdsourcing may be an anti-thesis to long-term partnerships and relationship building. Having an open call for designers each time an exhibition hovers around the corner may result in the need to reinvent the wheel each time. New vendors have to be taught the preferred “house style” of the institution and this may lengthen the learning curve.

    Finally, any form of design crowdsourcing will only work when both curators and museum designers have a good idea of what works in the specific cultural and social contexts of the institution. Every museum has subtle nuances and details that vary from country to country. A keen understanding of each other’s position is especially important for international designers based in a different country.

    • 2 Angelina September 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

      Hi Walter and thanks for your reply.
      I agree that crowdsourcing may slow down the process in that institutional knowledge and house style are difficult to learn in a short time frame.

      I wonder whether in the longer term, developing a discourse around design might help with that. Also, partnerships and relationship building are fluid and perhaps we could look at how we develop our networks to accommodate the develpment of issues. This would then allow designers and curators to work within the specifics of cultural and social contexts of the institution, leading the process and engaging the crowd to explore issues in partnership. No doubt versions of this will occur over time.

      I came across a particularly interesting example:www.quirky.com
      While this includes the usual crowdsourcing design, it also has an interesting feature ‘influence our decisions’. Here, crowdsouring is used to establish a discourse around particular issues and the more you participate, the more influential you become within that discourse.

      I’m leaning towards this more structured approach to crowdsourcing as it doesn’t just engage audiences in a one-off initiative, it asks us to become active cultural participants over time. Worth having a look at!

  2. 3 Giles September 23, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Love it or hate it, crowdsourcing is here to stay. I blogged about it recently with some successful examples of crowdsourcing showcased: http://360.clicksuite.co.nz/post/INSIDE-YOUR-MUSEUM-AN-OUTSIDERe28099S-PERSPECTIVE-%28Part-I-of-some%29.aspx

  3. 6 Walter September 25, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Thanks for offering your views to my responses. Also for the link to quirky.com (I love the web design!).

    Will certainly bear that in mind the next time we have a museum design project, or at least nudge my colleagues to consider that. If we can surmount some of the sustainability issues, crowdsourcing could really help many museums and galleries to produce more imaginative work. It also helps to prevent that stagnation which is common when inhouse designers do not have enough exposure to external ideas, concepts and influences.

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  1. 1 What will the museum of the future look like? – Museum Blogging Trackback on July 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm
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This blog examines social media, cultural institutions and digital participation. It's based on the research projects Engaging with Social Media in Museums and New Literacy, New Audiences. Regular contributors are Angelina Russo, Lynda Kelly and Seb Chan

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