NPR ran a story this morning entitled, “Crowd Sourcing Turns Business On Its Head,” in which it reported on a sneaker company that asks customers to design potential new shoes, posts the designs so that folks can vote on their faves, then produces and sells the top shoe. The winning designer gets $1000 and 1% of the profits. The company claims that, by using this method, they’ve cut design-to-final-product time from 12 months to six weeks.
The line in the story that gave me the greatest pause was this: “Like other companies relying on community design, RYZ [the shoe company in question] doesn’t need a large marketing or design staff.”
Creative competition is not uncommon. Microsoft endorses the iDSA’s Next-Gen PC Design Contest, and McDonald’s famously ran it’s “Big Mac Chant-off” earlier this summer, to cite just two of many examples. It’s also far from new. For example, Coke got the design for its iconic bottle from a competition it ran way back in 1915.
The real question is, “Are we entering an era in which competitions and crowd-sourcing will become the primary source for everything from product design to graphic design?” Although this might be an extreme way of putting it, I fear that it’s not an outlandish way of putting it.
At the end of the day, the proof of this pudding is in the eating: Will shoes designed this way sell? If they do, the model works. My hunch is, however, that even if they don’t sell, it won’t mean the model can’t work, just that it needs refinement.