Letting users generate designs, also known as crowdsourcing, is the method when companies ask consumers to develop new ideas for products, slogans or specific problems. One of the pioneers within the field of asking ‘the crowd’ to contribute new products is the LEGO ideas platform. Here consumers can share their idea and gather support, hereafter LEGO will review all ideas and perhaps develop this particular idea into a new product.
Crowdsourcing has several benefits for companies, such as the ability to solve problems, generate ideas, outsource tasks or use it as information pooling. (Tsekouras, 2018) However, Franke et al. (2006) found that users’ willingness to pay also increases substantially if they are allowed to design their own solutions. Resulting in a sales increase for the companies. The paper by Berg Jensen et al. (2014) studied which data can be used to help a focal producer firm to reduce its workload in the selection phase by predicting which user-generated designs it would most likely perceive as commercially attractive.
The study focused on the lead-users within the LEGO user community and their contributions to LEGO ideas. Lead-users were defined in 1986 by von Hippel as: “the members of a user population who get benefits of obtaining a solution to their needs and are at the leading edge of important trends in a marketplace.” Franke et al., (2006) elaborated further on this and found that lead-users tend to be the ones that come up with the most commercially attractive ideas in online communities. The study screened lead-users for input concerning relevant predictors and corresponding theories. It became apparent that one could distinguish between characteristics of the designs that lead-users tend to produce and the individual characteristics of lead-users.
Berg Jensen et al. used 1799 designs from 116 user-designers to find whether firms can anticipate on the most commercially attractive ideas. The three prominent variables that were used by a focal producer firm of such a community for filtering of promising user-generated designs were:
- The complexity of a given design
- The positive feedback from the community on specific designs
- The intensity of design activity by a user designer
The review of whether the focal producer firm perceives a user-generated design as attractive was done by measuring the assessment of two professional LEGO reviewers. These reviewers were trained by LEGO to find which design would be appealing to large market segments. However, regarding the data collection it is questionable whether this outcome is generalizable and attractive for other firms. As just two LEGO employees checked the designs, this could be highly biased and might have been checked twice or perhaps added a group of lead-users.
Complexity of design
The variable shows products that are rich in appearance and are therefore of great consumer value compared to alternative and competing designs. In this study the complexity is the number of pieces utilized in a given design. This also results in differentiation from competitors (Baldwin et al., 2006). The authors found an inverted U-shaped relationship between the complexity and its perceived commercial attractiveness. However, complexity can also result in higher production and distribution costs, as there is a point in time where the cost dimension outweighs the revenue dimension of a new design. The final turning point was found to be at 3950 pieces, which is highly context specific; therefore it is difficult to infer the application to a broad market of user-generated design platforms.
Positive community feedback
When a given design has attracted some endorsement from other users who may represent broader market segments this shows the positive community feedback (Baldwin et al., 2006). The authors found highly statistical significant evidence (.05083) that the relationship between the positive feedback received by a given user-generated design within the peer community and its perceived commercial attractiveness was positive. The empirical setting of the study was within a brand community where members have strong emotional attachments with the focal producer firm, which makes it hard for other firms’ communities to find lead-users that are such fanatics of their products.
Design activity by user designer.
The intensity of the design activity by a user designer is thus the number of designs generated and posted into LEGO ideas by a user. The results show there is a U-shaped relationship between the intensity of a certain user-designer’s activities and the likelihood that a given design by that user will be perceived as commercially attractive. The turning point turned out to be at a generation of 99 designs in two weeks time. This seems like an extreme amount, however, these types of user-designers are not uncommon in the brand community setting and might represent an important source of innovation.
There was no evidence to infer that whether the presence of a user-designer in the community increases the likelihood that a specific design by that user will be perceived as commercially attractive by the focal firm. This would show that that the community LEGO built does not add to the final commercial attractiveness of entire product. With this outcome the authors would show that the interaction within the community does not really have a commercial benefit.
Even though this study is difficult to generalize for other firms focusing on communities, the findings will help firms that use user-design platforms for physical prototypes, being a very niche market. This study is a first step towards a new web-based marketing research approach that can enable firms to filter vast number of user-generated designs more effectively and efficiently.
Baldwin, C., von Hippel, E. and Hienerth, C. (2006). How User Innovations Become Commercial Products: A Theoretical Investigation and Case Study. MIT Sloan Research Paper, (9).
Franke, N., von Hippel, E. and Schreier, M. (2006). Finding Commercially Attractive User Innovations: A Test of Lead-User Theory. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23(4), pp.301-315.
Jensen, M., Hienerth, C. and Lettl, C. (2014). Forecasting the Commercial Attractiveness of User-Generated Designs Using Online Data: An Empirical Study within the LEGO User Community. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31, pp.75-93.
Tsekouras, D. (2018). CUSTOMER CENTRIC DIGITAL COMMERCE – Session 3.
von Hippel, E. (1986). Lead Users: A Source of Novel Product Concepts. Management Science, 32(7), pp.791-805.