Opening up the design process to the public... ?

Hi All,

This topic fits quite a few forums (The Branding Iron, Footwear, Business Practices, etc.) but I’m posting here in the hopes to get the most views and comments…

Here’s the thing. I’m currently working with a client who is in the process of creating a start-up brand of new performance athletic footwear that seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom of the major athletic brands in both design and position (sorry, can’t yet elaborate more). This is truly a small-scale, from the ground-up project.

I’m doing it all from initial brand/product positioning, to branding, identity, footwear design, development, packaging, marketing, web, etc.

At this point we are at the beginnings of the process, having fleshed out the position of the brand, initial briefs for the identity and product and will be starting the identity and footwear design soon.

Normally, of course, this entire process is extremely controlled (and long), working direct with the client and keeping it all under wraps until a retail launch of the product… (likely SS12).

For this project, however, we’re considering something a bit different. I’ve suggested the idea (in keeping with the challenging of conventional wisdom) of opening the entire process up to the public eye.

The idea came from thinking about all the great criticism here on core, plus the interest I garnered from my First Pullover blog sharing the design process I experienced real-time at hummel.

This would mean almost ALL (perhaps except finance issues) design, content, discussion, would be done in a transparent, public way (ie. on a blog, etc.). This would include-

  • back and forth discussions about branding and positioning
  • all design work from concept to final art
  • business development issues, (the ups/downs of starting a new business)
  • future range planning

Essentially, the idea would be to capitalize on the many smart people out there (such as many projects posted on core benefit from a wide and varied critique). The possible pro’s-

  • Consumer following and interest (possible praise)
  • Increased awareness and potential sales
  • Increased exposure (PR)
  • An interesting business model that is totally different than the closed/secret athletic companies
  • New contacts / opportunities / investors / partners / collaborators

Possible con’s-

  • everyone can see the process, including the problems (and or crapy sketches)
  • we’d be open to comments, but still obviously relying on my/client’s guidance and would not take every suggestion - could alienate some
  • less “WOW” factor on launch
  • We’re not particularly worried about competitors seeing the work before development, but it could be a potential concern

    Any thoughts? idea? From my perspective this could either be the smartest idea ever, or the stupidest. Not sure which.


open source design? sounds like an interesting idea.

No, not really open source. Just open. We’re not planning on doing anything like crowdsourcing (having people submit designs/ideas), or necessarily having people vote on their favorite color, etc…

It’s more just open as an experiment…certainly it’s not intended to be like some of those “viral/social/crowdsourcing” PR stunts that some companies do setting up a myspace page which is essentially just a big ad…


I like the idea. I believe you’ll get a good cult following from designers and some sneaker heads by going this route which will most likely lead to additional interest and sales. You’ll get good feedback, and I know your not looking for a popularity or vote for your favorite color type feel, but you’ll still hear about likes and dislikes from a core group of consumers within you market which can’t hurt.

Besides all that, I want you to show it off for selfish reasons. BAM!

I like the idea, it is not unlike how some start up video game (mainly PC) companies develop their product. They open up a lot of their process, mechanics, balancing, and progress to gamers of their particular genre with web forums, beta tests, project updates, and sometimes sharing progress %. They do air some of their dirty laundry in doing this, but that’s why they have a PR person involved. They spare their “fans” from some of the internal aspects and other parts of the process that aren’t as relevant to the process. The product in this case is a game, and while lots of ideas and mechanics are shared with the public the coding and engine, or source code, is kept proprietary. It certainly can build hype for a game, but I’ve heard of some disasters when a company couldn’t deliver at release.

So in regards to some of your cons around competition seeing (or stealing) what you’re doing, maybe at some point in the process closer to release you have a blackout period where the visuals go away or become more vague and it is more about the realization process…

Interesting idea

Good analogy to the video game industry. I hadn’t thought of that.

In a way, this is actually of little concern, i think.-

  1. The major brands have enough of their own ideas and our product/design is probably too niche for them anyhow
  2. It takes lots of $$$/time/expertise to launch a new footwear brand and get it to production, so it’s unlikely someone would see the idea and start from scratch to implement it
  3. If the idea was copied, say by a low priced or unscrupulous foreign brand, it wouldn’t matter much since they likely wouldn’t see in the same distribution channel/market as our brand
  4. Ideas, in a way are cheap. It’s the execution and strategy that makes it a success. Plus having the concept out there early, we get a jump on any direct competition with early PR, buzz, awareness, etc.

Keep the comments flowing!


Greenman, I like the video game analogy. E3 started a couple days ago and all the games are getting hyped up. One of the other things game companies use are the forums that surround each new game. Valve does both the blogs and forums for their games such as Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. Having the PR person responding to people through both forums and blogs really helps their company seem like they really care, helps bring up the hype between people, and a community.

Rkuchinsky, I really like the idea. Although it might have less wow, it would have a story of it’s own to give it some meaning. It think the product would have its own type of customer satisfaction, especially to any potential customers who leave comments on the blog or a forum. As a student, I think getting to see the process of other people through a blog would be a nice learning tool for some students too. By the way your First Pullover blog is really cool and informative.

A student and I are in the beginning stages of making a banner/fixture for a small Lotus Notes convention and are applying the design process we learned in school. With two other people we’re posting our step by step process and we’ve gotten comments of interest by users. Although we just started it would be nice if other designers could give comments as well.

Good luck!

I would be interested in seeing the process from problem to solution.
I’m also a student, so seeing what a professional is doing in terms of interacting with other clients would be interesting to see.
And plus, a couple of students from other schools, including me, have been creating blogs showing what we’ve been doing at our schools (In the student forums). So, if this is going to help us in terms of how things work, then do it!
We demand the process! :smiley:

for sure I’d imagine design students would be interested. Any thoughts from the business side from all you guys running your own shop or start up?


Well, not sure if it’s the smartest idea ever or the stupidest, but definitely has the potential to be one of the most interesting :wink: A few questions / comments which come to mind:

  • Is this going to be a one-off, or will it be a key differentiator for the company in future? Just following this process once might make it seem like a gimmick, what’s more you’re certain to learn things which would improve the process if you do it a second time. But there are risks involved, not to mention the extra time and effort needed to manage the process.

  • Related to the above point, I could imagine the initiative getting a lot of publicity the first time, but interest might drop off if it becomes standard operating procedure. Does that matter? Is it likely to have a significant impact on sales?

  • Does everyone on the inside of the company believe in the idea for the same reasons? Actually perhaps it doesn’t matter if different people think it’s a good idea for different reasons, but it’s probably a good strategy to understand people’s motivations - it will help in understanding how they judge it to be a success or failure.

  • Is there an intention to reward those who engage often, or whose critiques are particularly valuable? Something more interesting than just money - a factory visit, an invite to the launch party, an exclusive pair of the shoes in question - are all good ways to build a community of advocates for the brand.

  • Who manages the process and community? It depends how big and involved you want the whole thing to get, but I could easily imagine the whole thing being a full-time job for someone.

  • I think the most important con in your list is the question of alienating those whose suggestions you ignore or think wrong. You only have to look at the fury that sometimes emerges on gaming sites to see how people who feel attached to a brand don’t like being made to feel like their views are unimportant. It will need a lot of engagement and handling with kid gloves on your part…

I really hope you decide to go ahead with this, especially because you obviously believe in it for the ‘right’ reasons rather than just a publicity stunt. Keep us posted…

I don’t think it is going to rock the industry, but it’s a good idea. Niche products are all about developing a relationship with your clients. I can’t imagine a better way of doing that than bringing them along during the development process.

I don’t think you need to worry about alienating people. As long as they feel their comments are heard, that’s the important part.

Richard: Do shoe companies get design patents? That may be the only real downside, the IP will belong to the public domain. Like you said though, the real value is in execution.

Good luck!

I think it sounds really intriguing, and using a more open approach could be quite beneficial for such a large-scope project. Start-ups need lots of ideas and input to get pointed in the right direction. The key would be to sift through the feedback that you receive from the open format and know where to steer she ship. (This is always the challenge, but with the potential for more input from the open forum, the emphasis on interpreting that feedback has a higher priority.)

The cons you listed seem minor. (Of course, there could be some major cons as well, but your current list looks easy to overcome.)

Here’s a link to a project that IDEO collaborated on with Bug Labs. Included in the link is a post that reflects on the open-project format. This might provide some insight into additional benefits and drawbacks of such a process:

In this day, everyone is looking to market stories… and the frustrating thing is that this is not rocket science… everything has a story.

I think opening it up would be awesome. Brands don’t need consumers, they need believers. If you can get a core group of believers who check the progress of the product all the time, they will have an attachment, having lived throughout the process with you. I think it would be great.

I think it would be interesting to follow the process, but then again - who visiting this forum wouldn’t? I think to achieve that marketable story, the consumers will need to feel they can affect the outcome - whether it is the product, packaging, website, anything. Product Design 2.0. If they are not most will probably say “wake me when it’s done, I might scroll through the process after the fact”.

In case you haven’t seen it, ArtLebedev share some process on many projects. It’s easy to miss, look for the textlink just under the title after you click a project.

Example: Making of Swissarmius

However I don’t think that stuff engages the consumers, just pats on the back from other designers.

I think for some product categories this is the way of the future.

I’m unsure whether open design as you’re describing and open source design will be a future trend or future practice, but for sure future designers and companies will be doing it.

The television industry has perfected the medium of selling the process, but the end product of all these talent shows seems to fade back into obscurity.

I think just opening up the design process for observation has limited interest. How interesting would core be if only you and yo contribute and we all just read.

Open design process with public input is the future. Methods to qualify public input are going to be a challenge.

Dell’s model of opening forum for idea contribution is boring; if they opened up the consequent design process associated with incorporating or debating and rejecting submitted ideas, that would be, like I say, the future.