User Innovation Communities: Digital Tools for Cultural Production

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Horizon Digital Economy Research


As the web becomes pervasive and deeply entrenched as part of our daily routines, more people than ever have the basic tools to express themselves through creative activities including: producing and editing video clips, composing music, and creating design artefacts and artworks. Yet sceptics including professionals often criticise this newly found freedom for destroying established business models, and for contributing to a cultural divide by fracturing our common culture into cultural bolt-holes . This proposal seeks to bring the creative public (including user groups and communities) to work alongside the producers (including the professional designers), by mindfully harvesting the public contributions as cultural resources to transform traditional in-house design and reduce R&D wastage; and to induce creativity, and social innovation. We will collaborate with Marks and Spencer to build and test a platform that facilitates contribution to the cultural production of design, exploitation of existing digital tools, and development of new tools. The platform will make available an array of digital tools to encourage interactivity and to further contribute to a register of cultural resources in terms of: a wiki of design artefacts (product forms, functions, etc.); and repertories of 'data' on how users perceive, appropriate and incorporate products into their lives, how well products fulfil their needs, how they imbue meaning and explore their individual, social and cultural identities through them, and how communities are formed through consumption and use. The cultural register provides a repository of cultural resources, which encourage reuse across and within different socio-cultural and business contexts. Our project fits RiTW well in that it enables us to engage directly with user groups and a consumer products brand to test the potential transformational impact of 'user innovation' as cultural production with consumer communities, which could feed into other areas of 'open design'.The ultimate aim of our research is to create a cultural register of design objects that facilitates sharing and reuse by the producers and the creative public through better use and exploitation of digital tools.The project team brings together reseachers with a background in design, user and open innovation, and ubiquitous computing. We will adopt a user driven approach to the design and development of a series of tools that bridging the socio-cultural gaps between user and business communities. The project team will leverage our strong connections with key industrial, public sector and academic groups in UK and internationally, ensuring that the proposed research will have maximum impact to communities of practice and creative and cultural industries.

Planned Impact

This project focuses on exploiting the potential of digital tools to harness the transformational power of communities and culture in design, and to ensure this side-supply of economic business models has maximum input to our future digital economy. Beyond its immediate impact on design-driven innovation and user and open innovation, the proposed work has the potential to impact a large number of beneficiaries. Our intent is to strategically exploit a range of mechanisms to ensure maximum impact across a number of communities including: Society: entrepreneurial individuals and communities Entrepeneurial individuals and groups/communities: The project is cognate with current thinking on the digital economy - that networks are very important (meshed society) for generating new knowledge from people from all social spheres. By revealing individual and group innate talents, people may be empowered to engage in creative economic activity that they might otherwise be excluded from. People may use their abilities to create business by: Selling design intelligence; engaging in collaborative relationships with brands looking for perceptions on their products, or new ideas; engaging with global marketplaces for solutions and ideas. People may use their abilities to self-actualise. Individuals and groups/communities may gain a sense of satisfaction from the achievement of designing and making their own artefacts, which may contribute to their sense of self and wellbeing. Insights could lead to opportunities: *for people to design their own products, to be individual, in contrast to mass-consumption of products; and for people to create communities based around the designing activity and sharing of designs (online, or at exhibitions and fairs) *for people to explore and reveal innate talents; *for people to self-organise and congregate locally based on collaboration and sharing towards a common purpose, thereby creating a sense of community, which is eroding in the UK: Rising anomie is highly suggestive of a fall in social capital , the glue which holds communities together *in this model being the basis for individuals and/or local cooperatives to develop new transactional relationships between themselves and brands/manufacturers; *for local environment /urban design, and for addressing local social problems; *for the generation of self-sustaining communities. *for the general public to get involved in and influence publicly funded research. Marks and Spencer The project will complement its programme of inspiring opportunities for all sections of London society (and visitors) to participate and engage with design and enterprise, and contribute to building communities. Business: towards new business and economic models The project is cognate with current thinking on the digital economy - that users often innovate before manufacturers, and so it is important to provide tools for them to do just that; and that we need to mobilise the tacit knowledge of users to create new knowledge and turn it into something useable - in order to find new business models and innovations. Insights could lead to opportunities: *for brands and manufacturers to create new relationships with consumers, from gaining insights into preferences, to consumers designing what they consume; *towards new business models for 'open design' environments (this model could be applied to emerging economies, as well as industrialised economies); *in the manufacture of lower cost CAD and tools for cultural production and local niche manufacturing; broadening public knowledge of fabrication technologies could shorten the adoption lifecycle; *for social network platform developers to be led on new web 'open design' and semantic infrastructures.


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Kuk, G. And Kirilova, N (2013) Artifactual agency in open design in European Conference on Information Systems

Description The ways user-designers use and combine private and public resources are unique. Hobbyists whose background in engineering often use codes to express their designs and are more likely to attract further derivation. Each derivation entails creation of additional digital files and resources, constituting the digital commons in 3d printing. User entrepreneurs who are designers by trade focus upon the printability and the quality of finish, and are more likely to selectively review their designs under non-commercial use. However, their designs are least likely to contribute to the digital commons. Whereas user-designers who have background in both engineering and art are more likely to attract further derivation and makes from their peers. They are more likely to switch between design as a hobby and design as a second source of income. The findings show when user-entrepreneurs intertwine private and public resources through the interdependent tinkering of 3d digital artifacts and 3d printing firmware, a trajectory with the highest level of collective contribution results. This trajectory significantly outperforms the other two trajectories comprising a purely independent or purely dependent private use of public resources. The findings show hobbyists and user entrepreneurs through the ways they combine private invention and public resources and at the same contribute back to the digital commons are the most influential user- designers. Their designs are more likely to be featured and they enjoy higher status as 'superstars' and 'superusers' among the makers.
Exploitation Route The findings provide practical insights into the governance issues of user innovation communities and the formulation of inclusive strategy without an increase in competition among users and designers.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Other

Description Open design for business
Amount £129,091 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 02/2016
Description VINNOVA mobility award 3D printing
Amount 20,000 kr (SEK)
Organisation Vinnova 
Sector Private
Country Sweden
Start 04/2014 
End 11/2015