Open-Source Product Development II

Last fall, I pointed out that video game makers were starting to open their development processes so customers — gamers — could actually modify their products... and help develop their own.

Now a newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, is doing much the same. Rather than redesigning the newspaper internally — or using the workaday focus groups to help decide on design improvements — the paper opened its redesign to its readers.

Not only is the paper publishing various versions of its Sunday edition to see what appeals to people most, it published editions with blank pages — asking readers to help redesign the paper, as well.

Readers were encouraged to "help create a new publication." One instruction read: "Draw. Doodle. Design. Turn the pages upside down or sideways if you want."

One major change is that the Sunday paper will now be a tabloid, while the daily remains a broadsheet. When was the last time you or your own organization drew on the experience and idea of clients and customers?

Add New Comment


  • Steve Portigal

    I think Lisa's reaction is common when issues of "participatory design" emerge - and I think what's important to remember (and I'm speaking as a user researcher here) is that the best processes don't simply collect opinions of more people, but focus on asking for input in a controlled way, and interpreting it in a specific way.

    When a non-designer - a user, for lack of a better word - says "I want a handle" then it's up to the facilitator/synthesist/researcher to draw the inference that what they want is an easy way to move the item from place to place.

    The designer's job is to develop solutions. The user's job is to talk about wants and needs. Obviously, solutions and needs are flip sides of the same coin, but don't expect users to actually be conversant in solutions - use the discussion of solutions as a proxy for a discussion of needs.

    Gack - I hope this doesn't come off like random nattering - I'm actually getting at something here but it's perhaps too abstract?

  • Lisa

    Yes, I'm the deputy art director at Fast Company, and all I can say is that I'm glad I work here and not at the Missourian!

    Design is definitely a group effort, especially at a publication where we work closely with editors, writers, and photo editors who all have different ideas. But it's another thing entirely to open up the discussion to people not directly involved in the process.

    There's an intangible involved with design, it's not simply a practical matter.

    We all strive to create a unique creative vision. All the pieces fit together to create that vision. You can't take everyone's opinion into account or it will lead to dilution.

    Maybe they don't have to do everything readers suggest and maybe there's no harm in asking, except for the damage it does to their staff of designers.

  • Darrin Dickey

    My guess is, you're a designer or layout person at FC?

    There's nothing wrong with getting "fresh eyes" on a project. And there's certainly nothing wrong with actually asking customers...the people who pay us...what they would like from our product. The Missourian doesn't actually have to do everything the customers suggest, but bringing them into the development process is a good idea.

    And by the way, my wife (who is not a nurse) learned a better way to swab a patient's throat that doesn't set off the "gag reflex." Next time a nurse tried to swab her throat, she taught the nurse the new technique. Now this is no longer a dreaded procedure in our doctor's office.

    Sometimes the customer can give you new insight.

  • Lisa

    More evidence of the denigration of my profession! Why don't they let their readers write and edit the articles as well? Next time I go in for a mammogram maybe I'll tell the nurse how I think she should do the procedure.

    Better stop now or people might think I have a chip on my shoulder.