The four modes of codesign

By | 20/11/2008

Upon the new forms of relationship which are impacted by the Internet, one for sure is the relationship between customers and corporate companies.

One of them is codesign. What is it about ?

Well, since a long time, the passionates have been always keen not only to comment about the product or services, but to participate in their design. As an example, Jellinek cooperating with Daimler-Benz to build the first Mercedes. But this was, somehow, reserved to an elite. However, from the customer side, the desire to participate in the design can be seen in many discussion forums. When Renault officially releases the first pictures of the Logan, it takes only one day to see other versions of the car, using photoshop.

Now, the company side : first was “techno-push”. Products were designed by technical people : from R&D department to design department, then manufacturing, then marketing, then sales. A pure linear process, very long (many years between the first idea and the product on the market), too long for our world. The customer is at the end of the process.

So, marketing has invented the “market-pull”. The customer is at the center, the process is shorter, and, a priori, the customer’s satisfaction is total. Well, not that much, because first the customer is passive, second the process does not take into account technical constraints (what if he wants a teleportation system ?). This process is no more innovative than the first one. Market-pull is no better than techno-push.

Let us have a look at how Internet was built: neither techno-push, nor market-pull, but a constant loop between technical proposition and transformation into usages. This becomes more interesting, an dmore innovative, because this is the standard way mankind has evolved. As shown by the great paleontologist Leroi-Ghouran, since human people have built tools, they always did it on a codesign mode, eliminating useless technology and keeping the one that helps to grow-up. His research allows us to eventually get rid of two bad ideas : technology is God and technology is Devil.

So, I propose to call “codesign” this cooperation between customers and companies, which is hugely helped by Internet. It has various other names, from crowdsourcing to customer as innovator, through user generated content, or pro-am. But let us call it “codesign” as a generic term.

I then started to find all possible ways to cooperate, and I propose four of them :

  • Mode one : the company creates a product, but the customer customizes this product. Well, automotive has extensivly used this since longtime, so no surprise that, in 2008, any respectful automotive web site proposes such an interface. But other sectors are doing this : of course, everybody customizes its computer dashbord, changing colors, etc… But shoes can now be customized; Timberland is a good example of this. Many parameters can be changed, till it comes to the final price (always the same) and delivery time (always the same).
  • Mode 2: the company creates “bricks”, and the customer assembles them. In computer industry, this is what we call widgets, or equivalent. Amazon is a great provider of widgets, and probably one of the most innovative company in terms of relationship between marketing and technology. But other industry as well : the IKEA kitchen planning tool, the Lego factory tool, or any other tool (by the way, IKEA will soon launch a virtual world, but I cannot say more).
  • Mode 3: the company and the customer create together. Open software is a good example, but the Dell idea storm is another beautiful one. The community launches idea, discuss about the ideas, vote for the ideas. So far, nothing unusual. But Dell implements some of those ideas. And this is a great move. Decathlon is doing this too: their R&D center are in some shops, but the use of Internet is limited.
  • Mode 4: the customer specifies, then finds a company to build the product. Of course, it is not one customer, but usually a whole community. There are very few exemple of this, freebeer is probably the most beautiful. Three students from a University in Denmark publish their own receipe of beer under Creative Common license; and they aggregate a community. They eventually find breweries to create their beer, and to sell it. After global breweries, after local breweries, this is a very interesting trend.

This last form is still a low level signal. But, for sure, the internet is reshaping the relationship between customers and companies. Passionates have always existed, but Internet brought them two big differences : 1) their number of friends has exploded, from a few friends to all people who read them on their blog, forums, etc.. and 2) they are now networked, thus forming a interesting innovative layer.

Innovative companies, wanting to enter into codesign mode, should now seriously considering this layer. Mass marketing, and one to one marketing, are gently dying under our amused eyes.


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