User integration framework – exploiting the creative power of users

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In this post, Shengmin Qian discussed the importance and possibilities of exploiting the creative power of users. Leading up to the Degree Show, she shares her perspective of the Anti-Solutioner as an Innovation Manager

How do you define a user? Would you say it’s a receiver of products created by companies? This notion is being broken by the democratization of the information needed to innovate. If you google “IKEA Hackers”, “LEGO Ideas”, or “Instructable”, you would be amazed. All these impressive products created by users indicate that they are transforming from passive receivers into active co-creators.

Thanks to the Internet, almost all kinds of knowledge can be found through online community, YouTube, MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and alike; Tools for creation and making – from physical to digital – are available at a reasonable cost and are ever developing, such as 3D Printer, open source software, and so on. With the help of these innovation-support resources, users become “the first to develop many and perhaps most new industrial and consumer products” (von Hippel, 2005). We have the reason to believe that the power of users is to be further unleashed.

Many researches have already proved that users are important sources of innovation. Leveraged properly, users can help to lower the cost of the new product development and higher the product success rate. In my research, I identified different types of information can be acquired from the users: need information and solution information; and different ways for companies to integrate users: passively or actively. Too often companies focus only on users’ need information by listening and observing them passively, which is widely known as “consumer insight”. However, this is far from what users can truly provide. In my thesis, I challenged this un-holistic view and built a framework that helps companies to systematically integrate user power in their new product development in order to increase their innovation capacity and provide truly user-centric products. I suggested suitable user integration method for different stage of new product development and dissected these methods in terms of 1) what type of users; 2) what do they do; and 3) what are the companies’ activities.

Building and implementing a user integration framework is not just about changing the research methodologies, designing toolkits, or setting up co-creation platforms. It requires a transformational journey for companies. As with the Anti-solutioner, the role of the innovation manager in creating this framework is to understand the entire system and craft a strategy that balances multiple elements. They identify what is most suitable for the company based on its technologies, business model, resources, employees’ skill sets, and organisational culture and structure.

However, in order for the strategy to be crafted out properly and implemented effectively, the primary affair is to make a shift in the thinking from the company as a definer of value to a more participative process where users and company together generate and develop meaning. Companies should cultivate an open minded and empathetic culture for the purpose of proactively embracing opportunities from all kinds of sources.

To learn more about the Anti-Solutioner and Shengmin’s research stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2015 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins in the week starting on the 23rd of June.

*Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing innovation. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.