From Passive Consumer to Active Co-Creator

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Unless we’re talking about the world’s best chocolate chip cookie, passively consuming a product just isn’t that satisfying. In a world where customers are treated as mere consumers of a product whose creation they personally have nothing to do with, an unsatisfying collapse occurs. This collapse flattens what is ideally a rich, complex relationship between a product and the creative process that produces it.

For all the industry talk of “customer-centric innovation,” the customer is generally suspiciously absent from the actual creation of a product or service. Sure, they may be “empathically” held in mind by the design team, but in reality, the customer only appears on the scene as the recipient of something they played no active part in creating.

But a revolution is occurring, and at Zen Media, we’re on the front lines. You might call it the democratization of the creative process that produces products and services. This democratization lies in a paradigm shift from a linear perspective to that of a complex system. The outdated (and frankly, boring) linear perspective views the creative process as something that happens at Point A and is then “handed off” to Point B (a product is actively created by a brand and then passed on at the “end of the line” to a passive consumer).

The complex systems perspective is much sexier. It views consumers as co-creators. This is the shift from regarding the consumer as a passive recipient to relating with them as an active participant.

Rather than viewing the creative process as something that happens at an active Point A that must then reach a passive Point B, the creative process is understood and democratized as a mutually enriching relationship between two active sides and between multiple environmental “nodes,” with each creatively influencing the other. In other words, both A and B (and C, D, E and so on – you see why it’s a called a complex system) are “baked in” from start to finish.

Now that’s a truly satisfying chocolate chip cookie.

What does this democratization of the creative process look like in practice? Swiss furniture company Vitra is an illustrative example. Vitra pop-up shops in Zurich and Amsterdam have appeared with brick-and-data environments deliberately designed to create the conditions for recruiting consumers as active co-creators.

On the surface, these pop-up shops are a virtual homage to the iconic, 1948 Eames plastic chair (inspired by its creators, Charles and Ray Eames), itself a testament to the creative process. But looking a little deeper, something even more interesting is going on than a celebration of the first industrially manufactured chair as popularly reintroduced by Vitra throughout Europe and the Middle East.

What is going on is a revolutionary paradigm shift potentiated at the creative crossroads of architecture, interior design, digital analytics, and marketing (the crossroads we at Zen Media are pioneering in the U.S.). This potent, multi-pronged approach to design positions visitors as active participants in the creative process: Vitra’s pop-up shops feature touch responsive tablets where visitors can mix and match various colors, bases, and upholstery choices to partner with Vitra in co-creating a custom version of the classic chair, proving that the most satisfying “cookie” is the one the customer plays an active role in baking.

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