Co-creation 5: Community product design

The previous examples we have looked at in this short series on co-creation have involved the brand as the primary instigator and driver of change and innovation. They may allow the user to customise the product they receive (mass customisation), customise the experience right up to the point of delivery (real-time self-service), innovate and co-create the way they experience the product (service redesign) or work on new product development (new product co-creation). The final stage in our spectrum sees the consumer have more of a driving influence and more responsibility. Rather then helping the brand to co-create the product they as a community are co-creating it for the brand: community product design.

There are a number of organisations who have made this kind of co-creation the very essence of their business model, and others who use it to solve particularly tricky problems or ones they just don’t have time to deal with right now.

Threadless is perhaps one of the most well-known of the former - an organisation who have built their business model on community product design. The concept is simple but effective. You can upload your T-shirt designs, the community votes on the designs and comments on them and every couple of weeks ten of the most popular designs are chosen and printed. You can then buy these t-shirts. The concept is simple and the execution effective. By involving the community fully in the product design process, and in fact letting them take the lead, Threadless is able to build loyalty for its designs and concepts and to some extent guarantee a market for the T-shirts it produces. A relatively high proportion of those who comment on or vote for a design may want to purchase it when it is printed.

This is a great example of allowing co-creation at the heart of your business model - letting the community take control of product design and develop products for and on behalf of themselves and others. Another example of community product design is for a firm to co-create in this way on just one specific problem or area. This is where online communities such as Innocentive come to the fore. They allow companies to ask the community to solve a specific problem or issue and reward them (in this case financially). Community product design is used in such cases to provide extra support and input either when internal resources don’t have  the time or the ability to solve the problem.

Customer product design is a very deep level of co-creation. Unlike the other examples we looked at in this series, it fully delegates responsibility for an area of business to a community. These may or may not be customers, more important is that they are people who can work together to solve the problem in hand. To embark upon such a deep level of co-creation requires a brand to change and adapt its internal processes but also its ways of interacting with external stakeholders and the wider community. Bringing them inside the brand is a big step but one that can both bring new ideas and be an effective way of innovating. As somebody once said to me: “the cleverest people don’t work for you”.

  • Threadless Gets Its Own Place
  • Co-creation 1: Mass Customisation
  • Co-creation 2: Real-time Self-service
  • Co-creation 3: Service redesign
  • Co-creation 4: New product Co-creation

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  1. FreshNetworks Blog » Blog Archive » SideTaker - crowdsource your private life:

    [...] couple of weeks ago we looked at some examples of co-creation including community product design. This approach often involves harnessing the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (or crowdsourcing as [...]

  2. FreshNetworks Blog » Blog Archive » Brands and social media diary - 03/10/2008:

    [...] This is a great example of something we have written about a fair bit recently: co-creation. In fact, this is an example of what we call Community product design. [...]

  3. Nicomorelli:

    once again, congratulations on your blog, this is another interesting reflection and it is very relevant to my own research and working interests.
    I also found very interesting examples of community service design. Some info about those examples can be found at and in the pages of the DOTT07 project.

  4. FreshNetworks Blog » Blog Archive » Crowdsourcing - does the customer know best?:

    [...] written a lot in the past about co-creation, from Mass Customisation to Community Product Design. In some of the more devloped examples of co-creating with customers crowdsourcing is common - [...]

  5. Product Design:

    Process of product design is a very deep level of co-creation. It fully delegates responsibility for an area of business to a community.

  6. Crowdsourcing the winning National Lottery numbers | FreshNetworks Blog:

    [...] written before about the power of co-creation for businesses and how working with your customers to crowdsource new products and ideas for your organisation can produce better ideas and better products than you might have [...]

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