This insight, written by Bryan Urbick, explores the grounds in which consumers’ creativity can really help to produce innovation in design.
I can still hear the voices, trying to persuade us against our idea.
In the mid-1990s when we first decided to progress with some new research methods we had developed, tested and refined, we had a few pushbacks. Stated simply, the methods involved working with consumers in the same way that teams develop new ideas – brainstorming, creative techniques to help people think out-of-the-box and utilization of various stimuli to help drive the creative process.
Of course the process was designed to ensure engagement and facilitated in a way that maintained focus on the project objectives. The crux of the objections and negative comments were based on the belief that consumers are not creative.
Our position then, as it is now, is that no one is creative when not in an environment conducive to creativity. The opposite is also true – anyone can be creative when the context is right.
Interestingly, the creative process was (and still is) a research tool we use to uncover opportunity areas. By evaluating new consumer ideas based on the prevalent themes, a picture of unmet needs emerges – and even if the consumer-created ideas are not pursued, the unmet needs can be clearly defined, with ways to address them clearly plotted out. The fact that by doing this style of research we were able to help facilitate consumers creating usable ideas was merely a by-product of the process.
Now, of course, consumer creativity is not a groundbreaking thought. Consumers, who were once deemed the last people a company would turn to for innovative ideas, are now often at the center of it all. Boundaries have blurred, hierarchies are flattening and at times it appears that everyone can be consumers, researchers, innovators and producers – all rolled into one.
I notice this much more these days when conducting qualitative research projects, from the more traditional focus groups to many of our non-traditional methods. It seems as if consumer respondents feel more ownership and genuinely try to help companies develop new ideas to solve their problems.
It wasn’t that long ago (1909 to be precise) that American farmers were lobbying car manufacturers for an automobile with detachable backseats. It took about 10 more years for Detroit to come up with the pickup truck. One can imagine what the car makers’ response might have been: “These farmers … what would they know?”
“How shortsighted! How narrow-minded!” you might say. And yet this attitude from the early 1900s is not that dissimilar from those naysayers just 15 years ago who felt the need to tell us that “consumers aren’t creative” when we presented our research methods.
Why is this? I believe it is primarily driven by two factors: 1) there is a desire that those hired to create new ideas maintain their worth; and 2) they haven’t seen the context in which a typical group of consumers can actually create anything of interest.
I am thankful, though, that more and more marketers and manufacturers leap with joy when new and obviously very necessary design innovation is suggested by consumers – and many take note and pursue those ideas. Open innovation schemes are becoming more prevalent and ideas are accepted from many sources, including consumers.
It’s about time that we acknowledge that consumers can be creative and allow ourselves to tap into the rich resource of consumer experience to innovate our products and services.
By Bryan Urbick
Bryan Urbick is founder and chairman of Consumer Knowledge Centre, a London research firm.
This comment was originally published by Quirk’s Marketing Research Review in November 3, 2011 at 18:21.