Open User Innovation in Design- Why It Happens

Did you know that some of the most dramatic design shifts are brought about by users of products? In fact in many instances, such as open source software, users are often able to bring about huge levels of change and are willing and freely able to share this with the larger community. In short product design and development can be to some extent efficiently delegated to the product’s users. But why?

Why Do Users Share their Innovations With Others?



It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? That people will develop new commercial applications or modify an existing product for their own use and then they will give those modifications away? Why are these people not exploiting these commercial uses for their own gain? Why do we not see hundreds of near identical open source releases rather than two or three versions of the same product as a maximum?

It might be socially conscious behaviour; it might be that deep down inside of us that there’s a drive to share our ideas and developments to better all of humanity. But that doesn’t sound quite right does it? In our experiences in real life, we know that some folks are practically brimming over with generosity and kindness but that nearly as many are playing the game entirely for themselves. Assuming that these two types of people occur pretty much in the same numbers in the creative community – there should be far less free flowing idea sharing than there is.

So what’s the truth of things? It turns out that one of the main reasons for all this sharing is the practical considerations under law. This article, has copyright, you are free to use the ideas it shares but if you want to use my words – you need to come to an agreement with the IDF to do so or they can sue you for them. With an idea, protection is rather harder to come by, patents need you to follow an expensive and time consuming process to establish them. If you really need to protect an idea; you need to get a lot of patents around the world.

Even if you have a patent… in many industries it does not do very much except allow you to trade its use off against a patent in someone else’s portfolio.

That barrier to protecting ideas turns out to benefit us all. If it’s too time consuming, expensive and only of limited value to protect ideas then we might as well set them free. The individual still benefits, good ideas tend to increase the individual’s standing with their peers and in their industry, and society benefits too. Open user innovation it turns out is a happy by-product of the way our society works.

Want to Find Out More About Open User Innovation and How It Can Help Your Design?

Then check out Eric von Hippel’s awesome text on Open User Innovation here; he’s a Professor of Technological Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a Professor in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division!

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