Is mass customization good for custom artistry?
“We all want to be unique – that’s what makes us all the same.”
Writer Dave Masters begins his recent article for Humans Invent on the union of our “drive for individuality” with high-tech innovations. In “Tailor made for the masses: A manufacturing revolution,” Masters takes a look at how mass manufacturing companies are taking note of consumers’ quests for things unique and adding customization services to their offerings.
As Masters notes, custom and bespoke services are nothing new, but whereas this world was once the domain of the wealthy, “now a kid with a credit card can click his way to a customised wardrobe in half an hour with a few taps of a mouse. Bespoke is no longer limited to the loaded – it’s gone mass market.”
According to Masters, modern technology, from the explosion of personalization options for your mobile phone to the rise of internet-based commerce, has changed not only what people expect from their purchases but also how buyers interact with makers. Consumers can choose the colors, styles, and designs for their products online, through services such as Nike iD. But there is much more coming. Consumers can upload digital images and have objects created, “printed” in 3D, by companies like Sculpteo.com that utilize the latest in additive manufacturing (AM) technology.
So what is in store for the future of mass customization? Will we all have 3D printers at home soon so we can print out jeans and T-shirts we design and purchase online? Maybe. (Or not. For a cautious assessment of possible consumer adoption of AM technology, read this article by Terry Wohlers).
The key to mass customization’s growth, however, appears to be less about the range of products a company can offer and more about the service the company can provide. Through Nike iD, design services like those for the world’s greatest athletes are now available to everyone. Ergonomic design is another kind of service companies are striving to provide. As Clement Moreau, CEO of Sculpteo.com, explains to Masters:
“The size of my hand is not the same as the size of your hand and my habits are different to everyone else’s. More and more consumer electronics companies are developing ways in which to create devices which are not only adapted according to my needs, but also ergonomically designed to adapt to my body.”
For example, companies like Etymotic are manufacturing headpieces and earphones customized to fit their consumers through their “Custom-Fit” program.
That the worlds of high tech and mass manufacturing intersect isn’t news. (But did you know about the intersection of high tech and custom artisanal production?) That there is a market out there for unique items isn’t news, either. At least not to custom artisans. But what about mass producers working with uploaded digital designs and 3D printing? What does that mean to custom artisanal production?
Service, that key to the future of mass customization, is also the key to custom artisanal production. In this area, the custom artisan has an advantage, or at the very least a clear mark of distinction, when compared to mass producers of any stripe. Whereas an online customer using Nike’s customization service is buying a brand, a “service” that the famous have used, an online customer of a custom artisan is buying craftsmanship, a “service” only a master in his or her field can provide.
CustomMade CEO Mike Salguero has previously described custom e-Commerce as “reinstating a relationship between the maker and the buyer.” In a 21st century shop on the Internet corner, customers and custom artisans exchanging digital images of their collaborative projects is not unusual. CustomMade artisan Paul Turzio of Ideas & Solutions can turn his clients’ home remodeling visions into 3D models in his virtual studio so they can see the results and revise their plans before construction has begun. As Paul notes, this is a “great communication tool.” When dealing with a custom artisan, the communication between buyer and maker goes both ways. See an example of a 3D model here.
What about designs that can’t be uploaded online or materials that can’t be 3D printed? Until matter transporters become viable, some materials may have to be uploaded into a box and mailed to custom furniture makers. Consider maker Ron Corl of Ron Corl Design, Ltd. Every i-Glyde low back designer chair is custom built by Amish craftsmen. They feature the unique Roncoil glider/rocker mechanism, a memory foam back for extra comfort, and custom upholstery with fabrics you can either choose from a wide selection or send to the artisan yourself.
AM technology. 3D printing. Bane of custom artistry or just another tool to work with?
Thoughts? Send us your comments.
This article is by CustomMade.com, the internet’s largest marketplace for custom made goods.