User Innovation, a symbiotic relationship

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual experiences of innovation, in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. Here, Leo Qin explores communication in user innovation, as a way to connect different ideas and stakeholders.


Keen to unpack the underlying nature of user innovation in the paradoxical relationship between producers and users, I looked to uncover the mechanisms that best support user innovation and are also able to navigate key obstructions in the design and development process.


An investigation into the theoretical methodologies of applied user innovation in both the producer and user perspectives revealed complex relationships, where neither party (producer or user) could take full advantage from the engagement. Although this insight revealed that certain level of remix to be required, the divergent characteristics of the actors make for a difficult information transfer process. As such, the main focus became one of reconciliation: between the challenges in the realm of democratic innovation and communication theories.


The field research I conducted allowed me to understand the situation in practice. By experiencing different journeys, from both the produce and the users innovation process, I found that the actions taken by most companies are sluggish and conservative, but also quite a positive understanding of the value in user innovation. In contrast, the force of user innovation is overwhelming, emerging from user communities with tenacious vitality. This finding implies a relatively passive position from producers.


The cases of several producers, such as Sugru, 3Doodler and IKEA, illustrated the possibility of the coexistence between user innovation communities and direct benefits from them. Moreover, the case of WikiHouse presented an alternative way users could completely bypass producers. Based on these experiences and findings, the key components and possible mechanisms for wisely handling user innovation were illustrated. In addition, the research also suggested the priority for inciting the change even with several trade-offs and variables.


The power of user innovation is increasing and influencing the innovation process alongside social progress. Adapting to the trend requires input from producers, users and even third parties to coordinate and facilitate the complex relationship. And, producers should shoulder the most responsibility to effectively drive the change.


In meeting certain conditions, such as increased communication efficiency, and reducing technical barriers, companies will be able to optimise the innovation process and effectively employ user innovation. However, the ideological perspective of the producer tends to be the most crucial factor to urge and sustain an active and continuous improvement. By establishing a supportive space for the design and development process, where user innovation activities can naturally emerge, the products can then be refined and pushed further in parallel and in response to user input.


To learn more about user innovation and Leo’s research, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.