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Changing Roles in Innovation: From consumer to co-creator
by Teresa Di Cairano |
Twitter: @TeresaDiCairano

A 1953 Coca Cola vintage TV commercial captured the essence of the role of the consumer as shopper.  If you can get past the female stereotyping of this pre Mad Men ad, what is revealed is a perspective of a time when companies looked to people simply as those who consume their products. How is that different now?

Classic Commercial for Coca-Cola (1953)

“Up to the ‘80s we looked at people as those who shop and those who buy.”

In fact, in a recent web lecture from Intervista’s innovationcultures program, Liz Sanders, pointed out the changing roles of people in innovation, mainly that of cosumer to co-creator.

As a design research expert, Sanders has studied the historical changes in how consumers are perceived and their changing role in the innovation process. “Going back over the last 20 or 30 years, if you take a look at the names of the people we are serving through design we see dramatic changes.

"Up to the 80’s the only words that we used were customer and consumer.” In the late’80s we started to use the word ‘user’ because we were developing personal computers that ordinary people couldn’t use – so there was a big effort on understanding people as users in addition to being customers and consumers.

“By the late 80’s and ‘90s designers looked at people as users.”

Continuing down advertising memory lane, here is an example of how Apple focused on the aspect of user-centric design and made the focus of their advertising on how easy their product was to use.

‘The computer for the rest of us’ – Apple TV advertising, circa 1985:

More recently different terms have been introduced and this reflects the changing roles that people are playing in this innovation process. We are now hearing those roles being referred to as adapters, participants and even co-creators.

“By 2000 we also looked at people as adapters, participants and even co-creators in the innovation process.”

Sanders plots these along a hill of change that indicates an evolution towards co-creation. While all of these roles are still relevant today, the trend towards more client-centric design has led to a more participatory role for people.

The second chart, below summarizes three types of design and innovation philosophies: expert, user and co-creation driven. She noted that different sectors tended to gravitate towards certain innovation and design philosophies – with varying degrees of participation from consumers. For example architecture and fashion firms tend to be expert-driven, while a lot of the computer and mobile technology related firms are user-driven. Meanwhile firms that are exploring at the leading edge of co-creation include LEGO, Nike
and P & G.

The key is to figure out which role we should be looking at - and in what phase of the innovation and design development process people should be participating in.

How would you best describe your co-creation strategies? Are you extending the role of your customers to co-creators? Or do you plan to take in the next casting call for a Mad Men episode?

email your comments to: teresa@intervista-institute.com

1. YouTube, Classic Commercial for Coca-Cola (1953)
2. YouTube, Apple Macintosh Commercial - The Computer for the Rest of Us - 2
3. Intervista web-lecture - InnovationCultures Program: Co-creation strategies for breakthrough innovation
4. bid

© 2014 Intervista Inc.

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