Customers today aren't often keen about the idea of sitting back and watching. Many want to be more directly involved. One way to engage your customers in the sales funnel is to allow them a say in the design process.

Four Ways to Involve Customers in Design

At first, the notion might seem strange. You should be designing and they should be buying. That's the way business works, right?

Sure, that's the way business usually works ... but who says you have to follow all the rules? There's a lot of power in involving customers in the design process.

It makes them feel more vested in the purchase, communicates that their opinions matter, and invigorates your business with a flow of new ideas at no additional cost. There are multiple ways to involve customers in your actual design process, but we'll highlight a few of the best to give you ideas about how to proceed.

1. Customizing

Some business models are conducive to total customization. This is when you allow the customer to propose an idea or design; then you develop a one-of-a-kind product that fits that person's specifications.

You'd be most likely to see this approach in the jewelry industry. Take Diamondere as an example.

This firm offers a jewelry design service in which customers team up with an on-staff designer and move through the design process in a step-by-step fashion. The idea is to give customers the opportunity to end up with exactly the product they want.

2. Collaborating

Collaboration is perhaps the most popular way to involve customers in the design process. Here, customers are given an opening to contribute their ideas and suggestions, and the company then takes those into account when the next round of product development takes place.

The feedback may be gathered via online submissions, in a formal focus group, on social media, or through other means.

3. Tinkering

Another common method of involving customers is known as tinkering. Most consumers are fairly familiar with this method and respond well to it.

Tinkering is when the customer is given a base product and allowed to customize various details of it. Depending on the level of tinkering, the customizable options may be applied prior to or after purchase.

The auto industry is one niche where tinkering is tremendously popular. Virtually every major manufacturer offers an opportunity to customize new cars, but Tesla is a really good example.

Using its online design tool, customers can start with a base model and customize almost every detail of their car. From drive system and interior layout to leather trim and audio capabilities, customers receive just about all the control they could desire.

4. Co-Designing

Co-designing is the least common of these options, but it tends to produce the best results. When a company co-designs, it selects a few of the most creative and engaged customers to represent the larger customer base.

The in-house design team works closely with the chosen customers to come up with new ideas that the rest of the marketplace would like. This process can take a lot of time and energy, but it's usually worth it in the end.

The Customer: Your Greatest Asset

You shouldn't regard customers only as sources of revenue. If you don't already, start to view them as the valuable assets they are.

Every customer has unique experiences, diverse skills, and proprietary ideas. One of the best ways to engage these individuals as well as strengthen your brand is to involve them in something as intimate as the design process.

It'll take time to flesh out the details of what it looks like to involve customers and how much freedom, influence, and control you'll allow them, but don't neglect this opportunity. It's a chance to forge stronger relationships with customers and introduce powerful new ideas to your brand.