Evolving Function and Aesthetic in Collaborative Design
Brandon Carrillo | University of Notre Dame
To many people, the idea of an intelligent crowd is an oxymoron. In cases where they act collectively, crowds are often mindless mobs, easy to excite or influence and prone to riots and violence. French writer Gustave Le Bon insisted, “In crowds, it is stupidity and not mother wit that is accumulated.” Parallel to this reasoning, the concept of an extraordinary average is contradictory since the act of averaging a group's components always results in mediocrity. When a group is averaged, every semblance of originality is lost and all that is left is a bland, boring, and banal result. These two basic concepts are directly related. It is commonly accepted that the collective efforts and characteristics of any group of people will be limited by the contributions of the lowest performers in the group. It is believed that exemplary groups are made of exemplary individuals, and that poor group performance can always be attributed to individuals who perform poorly within the group.
These principles are most obvious in sports, theater, and musical performance. But in a diverse array of other areas, these very same principles that dictate the successful performance of a group do not apply. In some cases, they even work to guarantee failure for a group. Sometimes, diversity of experience, intelligence, and ability is imperative to a group's success. Two very specific cases where diversity of contribution applies are in the realms of collaborative problem analysis and the averaging of aesthetic group qualities. While this is not obvious, it will be explained in two brief examples concerning open source software design and the art of digital facial composition.
Open source software design is one case where crowds have exhibited what can be described as collective wisdom. As a separate example, digital facial composition shows how merging together the average attributes of a group can lead to a result that is more extraordinary in character than any single member of that group. To understand the mechanism behind the power of collaboration, it is necessary to identify the ideal conditions that allow crowds and averages to give rise to intelligence and beauty. Applied correctly, these conditions may have direct application to the practice of industrial design.
Problem solving and aesthetics are, after all, the purpose of industrial design. Successful design is defined by how effectively a problem is addressed and by the physical aesthetic of the solution. But as will be explained, a collaborative form of industrial design may best be suited to influence the specific areas of socially responsible and sustainable design. After presenting brief examples showing the power of collaborative design in other disciplines, the ideal conditions for successful collaboration will be defined. To conclude, the framework for an online collaborative industrial design community will be presented.