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Crowdsourcing Innovation: the role of UX


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IA Summit 2010 talk

IA Summit 2010 talk

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  • Definitions:Crowdsourcing is realising that you can't have enough good ideas on your own. Whether you are a single person or an organisation. More brains are better than one brain. More people see more, know more, come across more problems, and can find more diverse possible solutions.  It's about getting excited together.Innovation is a process that involves having lots of ideas, coming up with problems to solve. It's about making things happen. Inventions become innovations when people use and adopt them - innovations are ideas that have an impact.
  • Throughout 2009, plenty of barcamps and hackdays took place, and large organisations tried to boost innovation by engaging with developers. Calls for participation in competitions and design challenges were mainly aimed at developers. Innovation was about improving technology, frameworks and tools, and also about making the world a better place through technology, about innovation for social change. Looking at everything that was going on, I got the impression that innovation equaled technology, code and apps, while the crowd were developers. Because they are the ones who build stuff. I asked myself, what role does the UX community play in all of this? What role should UX play? So, I had a look at projects going on within Vodafone, and events that were held throughout 2009, to find out more.
  • I started my journey with the work by Eric von Hippel, Professor of Technological Innovation in the MIT Sloan School of Management. His book Democratizing Innovation (2005) is one of the key resources if you're interested in open innovation. In 1986, Hippel coined the term 'lead user'. 
  • Examples for lead users who hack, change, adapt existing products, or create new ones, include surfers, mountainbikers or scientists. These lead users are experts in their field, designing for themselves. Lead users are part of a specialised community. Hippel points out that "customers don't innovate in a vacuum", but are part of "user innovation communities" who share experiences and learn from each other.Hippel talks about 2 kinds of information that are necessary to innovate: need information and solution information. He writes:
  • So, if innovation is about evolving technology and frameworks, then developers are the lead users. They are expert users of tech tools, and they are able to hack and tweak them.The first Vodafone project I'd like to talk about is about exactly this: evolving a platform with the help of lead users, in this case the developer community.
  • Mobile Widgets…apps built using HTML, CSS and Javascript…downloaded to the phone
  • A very tangible outcome are UX design guidelines. Patterns that work cross-platform, a guide of how to get started. What technical requirements do I have to bear in mind, what's important when designing for touch, what about colours and fonts? The guidelines were the outcome of a user-centred and participatory design process, taking developer needs into account. The patterns are modular, with code - so anyone can download the code and start playing with it. Good design can be included in the code. The design guidelines are meant to be a living document, and in the future aim to include also design stencils. There have been discussions if patterns and guidelines limit innovation, but in this case they help. It's hard to get something running on the device, so providing the lego makes building the house easier. Before you can crowdsource widgets, developers need to know how to build them.
  • The role UX is taking on this project is being an educator and enabler - enabling more people to make stuff for mobile to facilitate technological evolution. One aspect of this is how information is presented to developers, how information is shared, how collaboration is facilitated.So, the obvious involvement for UX is to advocate UX processes and techniques, help with UI design, error messages and usability. The key aspect that I find exciting:
  • enabling more people to use the platform, the resources and the data provided by mobile operators is crowdsourcing technological innovation. UX can not only improve the design of the collaboration platform, but also the tech tools themselves. Eric von Hippel talks about solution information and need information. In mobile, manufacturers and lead users, developers, are innovating around the solution - technology, frameworks, programming tools. Mobile technology is still a moving target, so now is the time to start being a part of this evolution. The UX department in Vodafone is taking part, e.g. by working on showcase apps to try out things, by using and improving the APIs. How can we make frameworks and APIs more user-friendly, so more people can use them to make stuff? UX needs to be involved in these discussions.  
  • Eric von Hippel describes solution information and needs information. The JIL platform right now is more about innovating solution information. The solution information we define now has to be usable in order to open up mobile and to have more people, not only developer lead users, tinker with it. This is the key learning from the JIL project for me. Doing what we are expected to do, eg providing visual design guidance, opens the door to get more involved. JIL still needs a lot of work, eg the innovation commons, a discussion and ideas space, needs to be better. There needs to be more openness, more sharing of code, more collaboration. Designing and working with lead users has given the UX designers a good understanding of what's needed to make JIL a success. 
  • The second Vodafone project I will talk about addresses these questions and brings solution and needs information together from different sources.
  • Ecomo is a project about sustainability, focused on mobile technology. The aim of the project was to develop concepts for tools and services that can help individuals and communities understand their impact on the environment, and to take action to lessen that impact. Ecomo was driven by the UX concept team, UX-initiated. The goal was to create not only concepts, scenarios and visualisations, but something tangible. However, the UX team did lack the resources to make functional prototypes. This drove the decision to make everything open and public - a big step for Vodafone.
  • Co-design - collaborating with lead users, aka progressives, to innovate - is one of the key skills of the Vodafone UX team. The Ecomo team worked with a different kind of lead user: sustainability experts who are actively engaged in sustainability initiatives and thinking, and also people concerned about the environment, who are not experts. Interviews and workshops generating ideas and designing scenarios to generate concepts took place.
  • All material was made available online on Betavine, an open community platform for mobile technology run by Vodafone R&D, to inform the 24 h developer hackathon that took place after the concept phase. 
  • The UX team also looked at potential data sources, and organised workshops as part of the hackathon. Several API presentations, eg API that gives access to the most up-to-date carbon and environmental data. During the hackathon, participants also discovered and shared new APIs, opened up ones they had brought along, and created additional ones. All prototypes were licensed as open source. The idea was to use the Ecomo project as a starting point for a sustainability code database, to create a repository of tools, to facilitate the collaboration between leading thinkers, activists, designers and developers. However, the project was descoped due to organisational restructuring, but work continues as part of Corporate Responsibility activities.
  • The UX designers acted as informants, idea generators and collectors, connectors and facilitators. Ecomo brought together both solution and needs information. Rather than only looking at current user behaviour through user research, the team identified lead users in the field of sustainability, the niche experts, and brought their ideas together with developer lead users who can make these ideas tangible. The team also looked into solutions information, providing APIs. It's worth mentioning that the project facilitated a collaboration between the platforms that provided data and APIs that continues beyond Ecomo.  What did the project team learn from Ecomo? Firstly, it took time and personal commitment to find and engage with both sustainability and developer lead users – attending relevant events, barcamps, hackathons, engaging with the existing Betavine community. Secondly, a closer collaboration between these communities should have taken place – including interested developers in the co-design workshops, and encouraging sustainability experts to attend the hack event.
  • Both projects make it clear that crowdsourcing innovation is a long-term effort. Engaging with lead user communities, bringing ideas together, facilitating product and prototypes to be built, keeping an eye on how technology is used and adapted – all of this takes time and personal commitment. What got me excited about these projects is that they advocate a culture of openness, sharing and collaboration, with UX as the facilitator, taking on a breadth of responsibilities. For a large organisation such as Vodafone, this is a mindset that is desired, but not always lived. The collaborative approach did not only apply to engaging with non-Vodafone lead users, but cooperation and relationships within the organisation were established. The crowd doesn’t have to be the public. In a large organisation, not designing in isolation, but working openly and inclusively helps to find allies to make things happen beyond your resources.The Vodafone projects are examples for how the UX department in a large organisation became involved in and initiated outward-facing, idea-seeking projects. I was interested if UX is present at hackdays, either in the form of individuals, or as a discipline. Hence I overcame initial inhibitions and decided to participate.Interested if and how designers are getting involved.
  • Mozilla Design ChallengesMozilla are a great example for engaging a crowd (community management, Mozilla Labs forums, open innovation ambassadors who mingle and advocate)Mozilla is taking open innovation seriously, and aim to bring dev and design togetherDesigners are the second group of important lead users to improve FirefoxGoal: build an open source library of UX design files
  • The 24-hour-hackathon where this photo was taken was thematic: CharityHack aimed to create tools for charities. At the event, several sponsoring companies presented their APIs, and charities were present. Good for me: the attendees were quite multi-disciplinary, from product managers to entrepreneurs to developers to charity volunteers (some of these roles could be found in one person). We formed a team with the vague goal to make a mobile application, and I hoped that my visual design skills would keep me busy. However, I found that I could contribute much more. After the API presentations, our brainstorming was driven by the available technology and its boundaries. It was the first time some of the APIs were being used, so a goal was to test and improve them. My UX skills were put to use throughout: facilitating the discussion of what to do, defining the user flow and features based on a usage scenario, planning the screen layout, down to interface and visual design and writing copy. True, I did sleep when the guys were coding. The experience was a great example for multi-disciplinary teamwork. The sponsors got lots of ideas for their APIs, and our project was continued to be a 'real' mobile app. After CharityHack and Ecomo, I've come to the conclusion that hackathon is not the right word for this kind of event. Yes, 24 hours are enough when it's about hacking, improving code, experimenting with APIs. It's not enough if it's about 'bigger ideas'. For this, a longer-term collaboration is necessary, with face-to-face events, hackathons or design challenges, and a separate online or offline space and community. So, while the word hackathon might scare designers away, I found that it's about technology and the use, the meaning of it.
  • - engaging with a lead user community is hard work- the interesting ideas are hiding in the niches- UX skills are useful in projects such as the ones I presented
  • - Make things happen, prototype, etc- Designing for – and with - participation
  • to be part of innovation, we have to get more involved in the innovation of technology. The sooner we put technology in people's hands and enable them to tinker with it, the earlier we can observe, improve and adapt - helping technologies to become meaningful innovations by adding meaning and making them useful, by paying attention to how the crowd interacts with the technology and what needs are emerging.
  • And human dreams!
  • You are what you share - the future of innovation, of work, of making good software, the future I see is collaborative. We need to be ambassadors of this mindset.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Crowdsourcing innovation:
      the role of UX
      Johanna Kollmann - @johannakoll
    • 2. All opinions expressed in this presentation are my own and do not necessarily represent the official view of Vodafone.
    • 3. Crowdsourcing
      …realising that you can't have enough good ideas on your own
      …getting excited together
      …a process that involves having lots of ideas
      …inventions that have an impact
    • 4. Photo: SilkeGerstenkorn /
    • 5. Eric von Hippel
      Professor of Technological Innovation
      MIT Sloan School of Management
      “Democratizing Innovation” (2005)
      Photo: Jean-BaptisteLabrune
    • 6. Lead users
      …at the leading edge of an important market trend,
      experiencing needs that will later be experienced by many users in that market.
      …anticipate relatively high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs, and so may innovate
      Photo: horrgakx
    • 7. Need and solution information
      "Product developers need two types of information in order to succeed at their work: need and context-of-use information (generated by users) and generic solution information (often initially generated by manufacturers specializing in a particular type of solution). Bringing these two types of information together is not easy.” – Eric von Hippel
      Photo: Rona Proudfoot
    • 8. Joint Innovation Lab
      …collaboration between Vodafone, China Mobile Limited, Softbank and Verizon Wireless
      …a platform to develop mobile services
      …aims for applications to run seamlessly on different phones and operating systems across different mobile operators
    • 9. JIL Website (Beta)
    • 10. Redesign: UX design guidelines
    • 11. Joint Innovation Lab
      UX as enabler and educator
      …how to get started building widgets
      …advocating a user-centred design approach
      …UX design guidelines, resources
    • 12. Joint Innovation Lab
      UX as facilitator of and participant in technological innovation
      …improving online community and collaboration platform
      …showcase apps
      …usability of APIs, framework, tools
    • 13. Improving solution information
      “Users’ ability to innovate is improving radically and rapidly as a result of the steadily improving quality of computer software and hardware, improved access to easy-to-use tools and components for innovation, and access to a steadily richer innovation commons." – Eric von Hippel
      Photo: Jack Wolf
    • 14. But what about needs information
      when developer lead users are not
      designing for themselves?
      Photo: Isolino Ferreira
    • 15. …UX-driven project about sustainability, focus on mobile technology
      …goal: develop concepts for tools and services that can help individuals and communities understand their impact on the environment, and to take action to lessen that impact
      …co-design: collaborating with lead users, aka progressives, to work on ideas with potential
    • 16. Co-design workshops
    • 17. Online community
    • 18. 24-hour hackathon
    • 19. UX as facilitator of idea generation and collaboration
      …bringing needs and solution information together
      …collaborated with lead users in the field of sustainability, the niche experts, and connected their ideas with developer lead user projects
      …project facilitated a collaboration between the providers of data and APIs
    • 20. Collaborating to create is hard
      Photos: Dana & Ron
    • 21.
    • 22.
      Photo: Kevin McDonagh
    • 23. Designer as participants…
      Meaningful ideas as the goal…
      …the formats of open innovation are changing
    • 24. So…conclusion time
      Photo: jd508
    • 25. “The direction in which an artifact
      (a product, for example) evolves depends very much on the meanings that different “groups with a problem” construct for it.”
      Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) model of technological evolution
      (Pinch and Bijker 1987)
    • 26. “Technology isn't moving that fast. What's fast is how we adopt and adapt it.”
      Nicky Smith, @nickycast
    • 27. Crowdsourcing
      …bring ideas from different (lead user) communities together
      …crowdsource the effort to turn ideas into inventions
      …designing for participation, openness and collaboration
      …facilitation is a key UX skill
    • 28. Innovation
      …UX and design play a key role, as they make inventions meaningful and useful
      …UX and design play a key role in the small steps of innovation: improving current experiences, spotting how
      lead users adapt products
      …UX should play a bigger role in technological innovation
    • 29. Human behaviour drives both the invention and adaptation of technology.
    • 30. It’s not walking on water.
      But pretty close.
      Photo: technosurf
    • 31. Thank you. Questions?
      Martina Joisten (JIL)
      Franco Papeschi, Tory Dunn (ecomo 09)
      Eric von Hippel: ‘Democratizing Innovation’
      Scott Berkun: ‘The myths of innovation’
      Jeff Howe: ‘Crowdsourcing’
      Charles Leadbeater: ‘We-Think’
      Betavine and the ecomo 09 hackers, Paypal and the Charityhack crew, and
      the large number of clever people who blogged, presented, talked, questioned, shared