Mozilla: Masters of Group Creativity


Does solitude breed creativity? Apple co-creator Steve Wozniak thought so when he remarked, “I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

This form of thinking strongly discredits the notion of brainstorming, a method devised by Alex Osborn to spark creativity in a group. Osborn claimed that brainstorming could enhance creative performance by almost 50% versus individuals working on their own. However, studies have shown that brainstorming exercises can lead to fixation on only one idea or the blocking out of other ideas and possibilities, leading to a conformity of ideas.

In fact, one study indicates that individuals are more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they don’t interact with others.

Given the lack of research to support the theory that group creativity works, would you put the task of your company logo redesign in the hands of the masses?

A group creativity experiment

That’s exactly what Mozilla, the nonprofit behind Firefox (the second most popular web browser) did in June of this year. They announced that they were performing a public rebrand and invited the community to design their new logo.

Designers uploaded their pitches, and the Mozilla community was encouraged to critique and pass comments on aspects of the logos. This gave the company real-time, very fine-tuned information about what people wanted from the logo, what they thought worked and what didn’t work.

In August, after a round of feedback on possible themes, the company released the designs of seven potential routes. Of these, four have been developed and refined. Mozilla recently showcased the remaining design directions in their first public viewing and critique at the Brand New Conference in Nashville, September 15, 2016.

Tim Murray, Creative Team Lead for Mozilla stated that he expects a brand identity recommendation to emerge sometime in October.

This is arguably one of the largest most successful creative group endeavors in history. What is it about the “Mozilla Open Design: Branding without Walls” initiative that’s working?

Creativity in chaos

Murray admitted starting out the project that he didn’t really know how the open-door rebrand process was going to work.

“We have no idea how many people will be interested, but we still think it’s worth seeing what happens when we throw the doors open,” he says. “It’s super exciting, but as a brand guy? To me, it’s also really terrifying.”

Chaos can boost creativity. According to The Forces of Creativity: ChaosChaos is one of the forces of creativity because it forces you to think in new ways. Because the human mind wants to find patterns in objects or happenings, it will take disparate items and find a pattern in them. By introducing random elements into a situation, new patterns, new ways of looking at a problem emerge.”

In his book Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius, Michael Michalko explains:

It is impossible to think unpredictably by looking harder and longer in the same direction. When your attention is focused on a subject, a few patterns are highly activated in your brain and dominate your thinking. … If, however, you change your focus and think about something that is not related, different, unusual patterns are activated.” Chaos sometimes involves deliberately looking at something in a new way, forcing new associations to form new and different patterns

Taking a fresh, novel approach to the rebrand has created possibilities and potential that may not have been captured without opening up the creative process to the masses.

Creativity and criticism

Creativity in a group can be maximized by actually removing one aspect of traditional brainstorming: the ban on criticism. In 2003, Charlan Nemeth, a Berkeley professor, concluded from a series of studies that criticism can enhance the quality and quantity of viable creative ideas, “The present study calls that assumption into question in that the encouragement to debate and even criticize, not only does not inhibit idea generation, it appears to enhance it even more than the traditional Brainstorming instructions.”

By opening up a creative brainstorming session to discussion and scrutiny promotes better engagement within the group. This study also remarks, “The task of ideation is inextricably linked to the task of evaluation.”

In essence, the open forum for design critique and discussion at each stage of the Mozilla project no doubt afforded Mozilla the insight to refine and further conceptualize designs based on the feedback from the community.

Follow the latest developments with the Mozilla redesign here.

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