2 months after reboot and some days after my summer holidays it’s time to check: how is the openBC design contest going? They just announced the second week’s winner. I met some of the openBC crew in copenhagen and saw Bill Liao’s talk there. I liked the openBC people, but i’m still not sure whether the contest is a good or completely weird idea. But anyway – it is an interesting experiment.
First, the technorati results are disappointing. There is few buzz around the contest. 108 posts containing „opendesign” is not very much compared to what they expected, i guess. There are two peaks visible in the diagram: a smaller one on the 2nd of June (date of reboot) and a bigger one on 18th of July, when they were mailing a newsletter. But the overall mentioning of openBC in blogs did not increase at all.
Secondly, the designs submitted so far are also a disappointment – even if one does not expect very much. What is noticeable is that there is very few diversity. The designs look very much the same. Not surprisingly, most of them take use of the ubiquitous Web2.0 style elements as gradients, rounded corners and aqua style buttons. But it is remarkable that there is not a single „unconventional” design approach yet. Nobody has the courage to try something very different.
Thats not helpful for the contest’s goal. openBC’s idea obviously was inspired by James Surowiecki’s „Wisdom of Crowds”. The contest brief reads „We want to harness the wisdom of the online community […]”. That’s right, Bill, isn’t it?
As Surowiecki writes in his book, key factors for a working aggregation of knowledge are: cognitive diversity, independence and decentralisation. Considering this, what’s going wrong with the openBC contest?
Reading the contest brief, it comes to my mind that they made far too much prerequisites regarding the visual design. „The overall color scheme of the new design should be bright and fresh”, „We would like to continue to use the blue”, „We want to give the site a lighter feel and therefore intend to avoid excessively solid forms” etc.
In terms of the functional design the restrictions are even more rigid. It says „focus on the user’s profile page”. Functional elements from the current page are mandatory. Just an example: the brief says that you have to display the connection‐ diagram. To me, this feature does not make very much sense when displaying a 5‐step connection. Do i ask a friend to call a friend to call a friend to call a friend to call a friend to make a contact? Rarely. That’s the first thing i would clean up when drawing the profile page. (Just my opinion)
I think by that, the brief violates Surowiecki’s rules. It is unlikely that sombody comes up with a really good, new, and unique design when taking the brief seriously. My recommendation: delete all this from the brief. Instead write: be free! be courageous! DO NOT CARE what you think others will think, just rely on your own intuition!
Additionally, it is worth a thought whether the aggregation mechanism is appropiate for a design decision. Design surely is different from science. In design, there is not a single truth. You cannot estimate a design’s value in the same way as the weight of an ox (Surowiecki’s example). In design, there are always many good ways to follow and mostly, a couraged approach is better than a halfhearted. Think of the Deutsche Telekom’s redesign in the 1990’s. The incredible successful use of magenta as corporate color would never have passed a simple voting by the crowd.
I am not saying that the collective approach generally does not make sense when it comes to design, but the simple voting will generate a mediocre output for sure. Just an idea instead: what about rewarding the re‐use of design elements of a design by other designers? Everybody should be encouraged to reuse other designs and psd files. When i am a designer participating, i would look at other designs and decide what elements make sense for my further work. I am reworking the design and post it for others in order to get rewards from the next one using my ideas. The crowd is judging how many points the re‐used ideas are worth and is rewarding the one who first came up with. The designer with the most points is the winner. The final decision which one to use is up to openBC anyway;)