Creative crowdsourcing – a technique for AEC clients?

Creative crowdsourcing was discussed at yesterday’s Media140, where it was defined as:

a process that expands the creative resources of an agency by utilising the creative capacity of thousands of other individuals to respond to a problem or challenge.

PeperamiThe speakers, Nic Ray of Quirk and Noam Buchalter, manager of the Peperami campaign at Unilever, were focused on crowd-sourcing innovative and creative advertising and promotion techniques for a spicy meat snack product (through However, I found myself wondering: (a) if building product and service providers might consider a similar approach to their next advertising campaigns (possible, I suppose), and (b) if construction clients, architects and other built environment designers might apply similar approaches to some of the challenges they face?

Nic outlined some of the challenges:

  • IP protection (both client and creative agency)
  • Choosing the right idea (from hundreds) – 1200 responses to the Peperami contest
  • How to produce the idea – ‘creative spark’ also needs to be delivered
  • Managing community expectations – people have contributed, and will want to see an outcome delivered in response to the brief (and not be alienated from contributing to future ideas competitions)
  • Traditional agency ‘sour grapes’ – bitching about speculative work, “PR stunt” accusations – need to manage these sentiments

Crowdsourcing might not be the right channel for every project, we heard – the approach has to be used when ‘the crowd’ can add value. In this case study, the objective was not just to get “user-generated content” – the aim was to get “Expert-generated content” – ideally (but not always) from experienced, creative agencies and freelances who could provide material to fit the brief and provide the necessary deliverables.

An AEC design opportunity?

Of course, architects have long had similar opportunities through design competitions. Clients can invite architectural practices to submit proposals for, say, a new university building to fit on a site of a certain size and to integrate with nearby buildings. But these tend to be relatively small-scale competitions (not usually run through websites like, and don’t tend to achieve the 100o-plus entries that the Peperami process achieved.

Thinking about such online architectural competitions also reminded me about BuildLondonLive. Now in its second year, this is a collaborative design competition intended to promote collaborative working and creative use of information-sharing and design technologies (ranging from CAD and building information modelling, BIM, through to file-sharing and social networking platforms). For 2009, the design brief is for a hypothetical project in the Thames Estuary east of London, and I know the organisers (one of whom, Paul Markovits, spoke at Bec2camp@WB earlier this month) are keen to get more multi-disciplinary teams entering the competition, run over a 48-hour period in December, to test both their collaborative abilities and their creative talents.

Maybe there’s an opportunity for clients to take elements of both the advertising industry crowd-sourcing approach and the BuildLondonLive technique and put briefs for real projects out on the web to see if they can improve the diversity, creativity and quality of responses they get?

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  1. […] including the crowd-sourced problem-solving (similar to – post). Here: “It is the diversity of the community that looks at these problems that matters most in […]

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