Bespoke Consumer Product Design?

Hi there, I’m Graeme, a final year Consumer Product Design student at Napier University in Edinburgh. For my major project I wish to investigate through active case studies, the viability of offering a unique bespoke design service on a local/National scale. The integral feature of this service is the unique element whereby the customer/client brings a disused or reclaimed ‘brought item’ (this needn’t be limited to one item and can be anything) with the intention of incorporating it in a new example of furniture or lighting, realised to the stage of completion. The predicted reasons for clients wanting to participate in such a system are:
o ‘Brought object’ may be of sentimental, but no practical use to the client.
o Client wishes to own a product specific to them.
o Client is concerned with wasteful practice, and wishes to see an old object given a ‘new lease of life’ as opposed to being dumped or recycled.
o The client may simply have an idea regarding the reuse of an object, yet cannot realise it fully themselves.

The reason for setting such a brief is that I am concerned with some ethical issues regarding Consumer Product Design, primarily issues of wastefulness and the homogenising of consumer goods. In bringing old objects there is direct interaction with recycling, thus addressing sustainable issues. Although there are many market specific/lifestyle-aimed products on the market, this service offers the customer a truly unique product.
The nature of this project dictates that it is as much, if not more, an exercise in system design as product design. I will endeavour to undertake three projects, based on three different clients. Two of these projects will be examples of furniture design, and one of lighting design. The process is foreseen to consist of many different stages:
o In each instance the client will be consulted with, and a brief set. This process may include elements of participatory design, whereby the client is actively involved in the creative process, offering ideas, or making specific requests.
o I will then present concepts to the client, and offer as accurate as possible price estimations concerning each concept. This will have to take into account such factors as manufacturing costs (these will be higher for outsourced labour, in instances where the techniques required are beyond my personal capabilities), extra materials etc.
o The client will give preliminary go-ahead for one of the proposals, suggest improvements (if this is the case, process will loop back to design stage), or reject outright the proposals.
o Detailed cost analysis.
o Order confirmation.
o Manufacturing takes place.
o Delivery to client.

Due to the client-centred and therefore the inherent high-risk financial nature of this enterprise, the client will have to be prepared to pay, at least a percentage of the price of the service/product ‘up-front’. The most likely payment method will involve an initial payment for the primary consultancy(ies). This will be followed by the payment of a percentage of the total cost at order confirmation stage. The remainder will be paid on delivery.
I foresee this venture being viable for the following reasons:
o People will be willing to pay more for a bespoke, highly personal service.
o The local/National scale will limit the call off time, therefore limiting the reluctance of consumers paying up front
o The fact that the products will consist of ‘brought objects’ will reduce material costs.

Does anyone have any comments on this proposition? Or would anyone in the Central Scotland region be interested in actig as a case study client?
Thanks very much.

everything is fine until order confirmation.


i don’t think the clients will agree to pay anything unless they see some type of a functional prototype, however if they’re somehow involved with the process like sourcing, manufacturing, parts, engineering, etc, it might differ. ofcourse in scotland it might be some other way.

An interesting idea Graeme. I think the concept has already been proven in several areas (suits, glasses, especially jewelry etc) and to a limited extent in others (such as contract furniture design)

I’m not sure how you will turn this into a thesis without things getting out of control though. Do you have some examples of possible combinations of object? Pocket watch and task lamp for example.

I wouldn’t worry too much about costs at this stage, it’s a pragmatic issue which will hinder the creative process at this stage in your project.

Hi Graeme,

Ignorant Colonial here; I didn’t know what “bespoke design service” meant so I had to take a few minutes to research it … we’d call it a “custom” design service here in the States. I might interject that there are people amongst these forums who would label this “craft” versus “industrial design”. Design is design to me, and income is income.

I’ve actully done a little of this type of work (modification of an industrial product for home use/extreme modification of a truck for an unintended application), and not realized there could be an actual market for that type of service on a continual basis. In my locale the appreciation of bespoke/custom design service is great, until the cost is identified.

Do you intend to be paid for the time it takes you to evaluate your client’s project in order to give thm an estimate of costs? If not, in my opinion, you will have a large clientel and be doing a lot of estimating … I call it getting a “reality check”. “Gee! I didn’t think it would cost THAT much … thanks anyway. Bye!”

I might add that I do not live in a major population center, where there would of course be a larger number of affluent clientel who would avail themselves of this kind of service.

The capitol investment in equipment requried to undertake miscellaneous projects would be great. If, like most indespendent designers, you work with other craft people (machinists, welders, woodworkers, painters, etc.) it would be less so, but so would your billable hours. My experience has always been that the more I can do myself, the more I will make on a project. That said, you will natually acquire more specialized equipment as you grow, and establishing a network of “working associates” is never a bad idea.

A positive, working, example would be: an automotive/motorcycle painter near me that has realized quite a bit of income from repainting computers and peripheral hardware.