Is crowdsourcing changing the who, what, where, and how of creative work?

By Mira Dontcheva (Adobe Systems) and Elizabeth Gerber (Northwestern University)

The Web’s ability to connect individuals has fundamentally changed the way creative work is done. Today, websites like 99designs and CrowdSpring allow businesses to crowdsource professional creative solutions. Clients publicly solicit creative content, such as logos, ads, or websites, and pick the best design from hundreds of alternatives created by designers from all over the world. In a more playful setting, platforms like Worth1000 and LayerTennis encourage contributors to compete with each other and collaboratively create new artwork. And artistic projects like The Johny Cash Project and Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir combine hundreds or thousands of contributions into an art form that appears greater than the sum of its parts.

What makes this collaborative creative work successful and can this process scale beyond a few examples? Is success due to an impressive leader shepherding the creative work as Kurt Luther claims in his post? Or is it more about the iterative feedback mentioned by Steven Dow and Scott Klemmer? What are the characteristics of a crowdsourcing environment that fosters creativity and empowers its contributors to create something new?

For the last fifty years, organizational researchers concerned with fostering creativity have studied individual and group creative processes and have found that environments that are supportive of creativity offer:

  • task autonomy and freedom, which allow workers to have a sense of ownership over their work and ideas,
  • intellectually challenging work,
  • supervisory encouragement including setting clear goals and frequent and open interactions between a supervisor and his/her team,
  • organizational encouragement including encouraging workers to take risks, evaluating new ideas fairly without too much criticism, and offering rewards and recognition for creativity,
  • and work group supports through team members with diverse backgrounds, openness to ideas, and a shared commitment to a project [1] .

As HCI designers, we have an opportunity to apply organizational theory to crowdsourcing platforms, while remembering that motivation and work behavior are closely linked. Projects such as The Johny Cash Project suggest that a shared commitment to a project and recognition for creativity motivate participation.

In our own research we have been asking workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to engage in creative work.  Perhaps not surprisingly, as it was not built with creative tasks in mind, the Mechanical Turk platform does not support or encourage the creative process.  We look forward to attending the workshop where we can share out design recommends for crowdsourcing platforms that foster creative projects  and discuss how crowdsourcing is changing the who, what, where and how of creative work.

Mira Dontcheva is a senior research scientist at Adobe Systems where she does research on  search and sensemaking interfaces, end-user programming, and most recently creativity. As a Northwestern Design Professor, Elizabeth Gerber researches the role of technology in creativity and innovation.

References:
1. Amabile, T., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., and Herron, M. Assessing the work environment for creativity. The Academy of Management Journal 39, 5 (1996), 1154–1184.

Workshop Paper:
Crowdsourcing and Creativity

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