Collaboration Redefined

Leveraging Tactics of Crowdsourcing and Technological Utilities to Enhance Resulting Knowledge in a Multi-Disciplinary Collaborative Project?

Presented by: Lyndsey Miller, Jacob Gines, Alexis Gregory, Michele Herrmann, and Suzanne Powney

Crowdsourcing, a term coined in 2006 by Wired journalist Jeff Howe, is the employment of a broad audience to generate creative solutions to a core problem using digital tools as a platform (1). Particularly related to design, those contributors have a variety of backgrounds and, because iteration is required, the convergence of expertise brings about robust results to the design problem.  As authors Lingyun Sun et. al. describe, “crowd who collaborate could learn from others’ design processes and improve their design ability, and this enables sustainable crowd work.”(4) While crowdsourcing in its traditional, yet youthful, form have primarily been applied to large audiences on a global scale, those at PwC propose that the methods can be applied on an internal, corporate level in order to promote ideation that “mirrors the community-centric nature of the Internet at large.” Furthermore, young audiences, such as those entering college and soon the workforce, are much more habituated to broadly communicating on a global scale, removed from hierarchical barriers (3). Design pedagogy in higher education, in turn, should begin to adopt proven crowdsourcing strategies, which are more apropos for today’s student body, that will result in better project outcomes, seamless transition to practice, and improved learning outcomes in the process. 

At the start of the fall semester, students at one university were immediately engaged in a multi-disciplinary, industry-sponsored competition.  Modeling PwC’s methods for implementing crowdsourcing into corporate environments, this project sought to replicate their five key strategies: 

  1. Include a diverse audience.
  2. Provide a clear purpose.
  3. Motivate to participate.
  4. Allow time to innovate.
  5. Don’t throw out ideas.

This endeavor, as part of a larger five year study, was modified significantly for the calendar year to address major concerns and issues evaluated in previous years (2).  The first was to incorporate a more diverse group of students, beyond those concentrated on the built environment.  Graphic design students were incorporated into the teams which had previously been comprised of Architecture, Building Construction, and Interior Design. The faculty of the respective groups also engaged preliminarily to standardize the scope and procedures the teams would ultimately follow.  Additionally, students were removed from their respective studio environments and converged in a neutral on-campus location that enabled active learning.  The facilitating faculty were positioned as mentors, promoting engagement and interaction in a trusting environment.  Regeneration of ideas, be it through ideation and failures, were encouraged and the learning objectives were as much about the process as the resulting final products.  Through these methodologies, a variety of technologies were incorporated to facilitate a higher level of communication between students of varying work ethics, class times, skillsets, and personalities. 

This presentation will discuss, in more detail, specific implementations in this multi-disciplinary project.  In addition, a comparison of outcomes from the three-previous years and the modified components will be considered.  Ultimately, by implementing philosophies of crowdsourcing, applied for corporate environments, the resulting projects, students’ engagement and perceptions, and knowledge gained prove that the experience is facilitating the desired positive outcomes.


  • Howe, Jeff. (2006). Crowdsourcing:  A definition.  Crowdsourcing:  Tracking the rise of the amateur.
  • Miller, L., Miller, B., Gregory, A., Herrmann, M., & Moss, J. (2013). A Paradigm Shift in the AEC Industry and the Implications on Design Pedagogy:  The Effects of IPD Processes on a Collaborative Studio Project [Abstract].  Proceedings of the Interior Design Educators Council Annual Conference
  • (2011).  Harnessing the power of crowdsourcing:  Does your company stand out in a crowd? PwC Advisory: People and Change.  Retrieved from
  • Sun, L., Xiang, W., Chen, S., & Yang, Z. (2014). Collaborative sketching in crowdsourcing design:  a new  method for idea generation.  Springer Science + Business Media.  DOI: 10.1007/s10798-014-9283-y


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