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2007 02 19
The Kidrobot Phenomenon Meets Community Design Activism: Part 1

Active 18 did it and changed the way Torontonians influence the city's urban design approval process. The TTC Website Challenge did it by bringing together city bureaucrats with TTC-riding digital geeks to generate ideas for the TTC route information website. Phenomenally successful toy company Kidrobot does it all the time by asking their users, friends, musicians, designers, graffiti-artists and others for new toy ideas.

Online collective design activism -- architects and urban designers can think of it as an online charrette -- is changing how designers of all types explore new ideas and trends. Some, like Kidrobot, use the technique for commercial ends. Governments like the City of Toronto are embracing the idea to breath fresh air into their once musty corridors of power.

To traditional thinkers, the idea of opening up territory that once belonged to "experts" to the out-of-control intrusions of the general public is anarchy. Has everyone gone mad! But the facts speak for themselves: many hands do make work easier. Ask Kidrobot's founder Paul Budnitz. "When there's no sense of possessiveness or ownership in the artistic process, great things happen,"

That doesn't mean there is no place for the informed. Budnitz goes on to say, "You need someone with a very clear vision holding everything together, and frankly that's what I'm exceptionally good at."

Whether we look at models like James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations," or our own local experience with Active 18 and the TTC, online design collaboration does improve the quality of many types of design - especially those that are complex and involve community input. Environmental problems seem particularly ripe for this kind of collective design solution approach. Maybe that's what the future will hold for influential green sites like http://treehugger.com. Imagine what might happen if hundreds of thousands of informed readers turn their collective problem-solving skills to previously design-resistant environmental problems?

I'll follow up this posting with a Part 2 later this week.

[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 02/19 at 02:16 PM

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