Mass Customisation and User Generated Designs

This is a spin off discussion from “Any one interested in Generative Designs”, which is now flooded with too many posts.

Again need to clarify as to whom the design is for : for the customer or the designer. The reason why customers are design their own and paying more for it is because they feel that they can create something that they value more. The reason the why this campaign is successful (despite the very hi costs incurred by the company in customization) is that a large number of people prefer this to mass produced designer designed shoes.

The designs produced may not appeal to the more developed sensibilities of designers (who may not be open to the reality that many make hate what they design), but its best not to scoff at it. User generated photography started this way. Once there is large participation and criticism (as we see in flicker) learning will take place and quality will emerge.

Absolutely. Designers unfortunately assume that they are the only once capable of creating sentimental value.

Not the best example of customization, as it is basically a large catalog. I read some where if Nike was to store all those designs they would need 4 planets full of warehouses - to handle all the permutation and combination. The customer here is satisfactorily fooled into thinking that they are designing their shoe.

Please define “large”. What is the total market potential? How does that compare to the total market potential of “mass produced designer designed shoes”?

Good point iab. I don’t want a pair of Nike ID shoes because of the cost. However, what if I wanted to make the Nike ID look like an Adidas shoe? I couldn’t do that even though that’s what I wanted it to look like. I can’t customize the shoe enough to completely redesign it, can I?

:laughing: Love it. Unintended consequence at its best.

SK is right, you need to understand the difference between the design that designers do and the ‘design’ that consumers do. Designers need to think about markets that are often in the millions, consumers are only thinking about a market of one. Mass Customisation doesn’t suggest that anyone should turn to the “general public” for beautiful design, it says that if one single consumer can address their own (and no-one else’s) needs better than standard product offerings, they should be able to customise a product to meet those needs.

As far as I know Nike have never made these figures public, however going by some of their competitors (Adidas and Puma in particular) I think it’s safe to say NikeID makes up less than 1% of Nike’s overall sales. Then again using a percentage of sales figures is a pretty crude way of measuring value - I’m fairly sure that sales of Bentleys make up less than 1% of VW’s sales, for example. As far as the total market potential, look at Dell - 100% of their PC sales are mass customised.

More unintended consequences: words that Nike won’t let you stitch on a pair of customised NikeID shoes:


I never wrote sales figures are a measure of value. Of course a niche product has value, it is just to an extremely small audience. There needs to be perspective on the amount of resources thrown at mass customization. cdaisy was correct in writing, " … people who have a great sense of form, color, energy, ingenuity etc. are already employed as designers!" Only in a very limited way does the customer want something self designed. Facts are facts, unless you or SK can provide figures to prove otherwise.

The real problem of elevating the importance of mass customization is coming to silly conclusions like this,

First, I don’t know a single designer who thinks that, but thinking that self-design alone creates sentimental value is a joke. Sentimental value is created throughout the life of the product, not just at its birth. If you would like to learn more about that concept, I would recommend reading Art as Experience by John Dewey.

Tell me which facts you want, and I’ll try to tell you whether they exist or not. I am not a proponent of the “mass customisation = design” camp, in fact at the last Mass Customization and Personalization Conference last year, I presented a paper which in part argued that consumers engaging in mass customisation are not acting as designers:

Sinclair, M. & Campbell, R.I. (2009) From Configuration to Design - Capturing the Intent of User-Designers, Proceedings of the MCPC 2009, Helsinki.

However there is a substantial amount of research that shows that consumers do want mass customised products, and that they value them more highly than ‘standard’ offerings. For example Franke and Piller (2004) conducted a study with 267 participants which found a willingness to pay (on average) twice as much for a watch that had been mass customised as one that hadn’t. Schreier (2006) found that consumers were willing to pay 13% more for t-shirts and 107% more for cell phone covers that had been customised. Deng and Hutchinson (2007) conducted a particularly interesting study with 512 participants using the NikeID website, which found that not only did consumers prefer their own (customised) designs to the standard Nike offerings, they also preferred other consumers’ customised designs.

None of this is to say that all consumers want all products to be customised (indeed there is also a substantial amount of research which demonstrates this is not the case). But you asked what is the total market potential, to which I gave as an example the figure of 100% for Dell’s PCs. Since, as you say, “facts are facts”, how about some figures to substantiate your claim that customers want self design “only in a very limited way”?

just a qualitative observation here… I, and many designers I know, would love to re-design everything around themselves.

All my wooden furniture I especially want to redesign, and could do it, but there just isn’t enough time in the day. Since that’s the case, I’ll settle for buying nice furniture that have been created by specialized designers

why from designers and not just anybody? because the designers think about the products all the time, know the tricks to make functional high-quality stuff, and have taken the design well past the obvious forms.

Hence, “designer” sunglasses, “designer” watches, “designer” hairstyles…

I am pro-mass customization mostly because I have been part of designing and experimenting with physical modular architectures that need lots of flexibility to meet a customer’s needs. Sometimes they are more hands on, sometimes not, but almost all of them like collaborating on a design. Modular systems can have millions of different combinations depending on the complexity, but it is up to me, the designer to determine which combinations fit the intent. It is the determinations that I make that dictate whether the end result is a success with the customer. Thankfully, not only do I design with these systems, but I also get to design the systems themselves. So, in designing the system, based on my knowledge, I have to set it up so that it will allow me and other designers the constraints or capabilities to create good designs as well.

That right there can determine whether or not something like NikeID is a success or not. Sure, you can have 4 planets full of warehouses of shoes, but if 99% of the possible combinations suck and nobody would buy them, then someone didn’t influence the development of the system with enough capability or constraint. Would Nike have sold more shoes if they allowed more words, you bet, but it could tarnish their brand to have CorporateWHR next to the Nike swoosh. My issue with NikeID isn’t the physical design of the shoes so much as it is the lack of graphic options that complement the material colors. If it had an applet to control a range of pre-selected artwork over the surface that might tip me towards a pair, but i’m a designer, I want unlimited options. However, to non-designer consumers they can also feel the same way, limited in options, can’t get to that level of personalization that makes them buy, so they move on.

As i’ve mentioned this kind of user creation is nothing new to the gaming industry (which I don’t think gets enough credit still), specifically, but not limited to massive multiplayer role playing games. These games, and games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater or Tigers Wood Golf, allow you to create your own persona down to some very small details and adds to the immersion in a virtual world. Allowing a customer the ability to customize a product or experience is to allow further immersion in the real world, and I see zero difference between the two other than virtual worlds have limitless possibilities and the real world has lots of manufacturing constraints, but the desire for immersion is the same. Why do you think a game like World of Warcraft has tens of millions of players, or 10% of Americans play Farmville, line 10 people up, one of them has a virtual farm, and they pay for things in it, 1’s and 0’s, and people laugh, but Zynga’s making millions.

Agreed, if the system was designed (maybe it is) to gather common combinations made by the consumer then the system’s designer could use the data to find trends and complement the system with new options.

If their system killed off each design that sold and locked that specific combination eventually it would get to zero, and while you’d have 4 planets full of ugly ass shoes, every single consumer would have a unique pair.

I don’t know if you are all in denial.

But this is the future. Mass customization. People WILL design their own tools…just like they did in the beginning of mankind.
Why? Because the tools to do it are/or will become available in the next decade for everyone. ( Rapid prototyping/production, Generative Software). It’s already happening with music…just check this out:
It’s a free online flash-app that let’s you generate your own music with regular synths, drum-machines and FX. If you’d want to buy that in real life it would cost you thousands of dollars but now it’s free. Thanks to the internet and some enthusiasts.
The same thing will happen with movies and product-design. The borderline between amateur and pro becomes thinner and thinner until there will be no more border. It would be better to embrace this fact than to think you are special and others can’t do what you do. Maybe not today, but they will tomorrow.

This is one of the reasons why I would dissuade my kid to become an industrial designer. And off course the fact that you take all the shit and no credit :wink:



Are you sure about that? Because I see furniture all the time which is crap, which isn’t high quality, has no function beyond the obvious, doesn’t explore form in any way that hasn’t been explored before, all of it conceived by ‘specialised designers’. If you’re going to argue that designers do better work simply by virtue of the fact that they’re employed, you’re setting yourself up to defend an awful lot of shit.

What if you didn’t have to redesign it completely, but only 10% of it? What if there were specialist tools already available to help you redesign it, within certain parameters? What if you could tweak the design in an apparently small way but which was a great benefit to you (and only to you, no-one else)? What if countless numbers of people had considered your question countless numbers of times in the past, and one of the purposes of mass customisation was to try to overcome it?

it’s already happening people: dig a little deeper in the site and you’ll be amazed of what they can do today Imagine what would be possible tomorrow are in ten years. Especially since these things will keep getting better and better

And I agree with the above to many designers think they are special but do nothing more than re-chew/restyle an old design.
Just because marketeers like to say it’s a designers-watch doesn’t make you special…it makes you the tool of a marketeer…something that should be avoided at all time since marketeers don’t want innovative product they just want the client to think it’s an innovative product.

So feel free to feel special today since tomorrow you’ll be common :wink: enjoy it while it lasts

it would have been more accurate to say furniture that I want to buy usually comes from a designer, or someone who has taken it to a unique level. Generally I’d think that someone who has experience learning the processes and making interesting furniture creates nicer stuff compared to someone doing their first wooden furniture, but that’s not always the case

I see your point - there is a lot of furniture made that I don’t like too

Adjusting the size of a table or shelves is one thing, but it’s the parameters I wonder about; The changes I want to do might be something that the program hasn’t been set up to allow. Could it let me make a cantilevered wood & glass coffee table from a base 4 legged table? or something even more unique?

I agree that the border will become thinner between the consumer and the designer where the actual product is concerned. A point that i’ve been trying to make is that you still need a designer, but their role shifts from influencing the product to influencing the tool so that it can assist the consumer in designing a good product. If the design of these tools is left merely up to programmers, marketers, and engineers you will reap similar results that you get when mass producing products.

I would be curious to see how much involvement an Industrial Designer had in the Nike ID project beyond designing the footwear. To me it kinda wreaks of marketing oversight.

You’re right of course, mass customisation limits what you’re able to achieve. That’s actually one of it’s features - it makes things easier for people who aren’t trained designers, and prevents them from creating un-manufacturable products; it’s also one of the reasons why mass customisation isn’t the same thing as design. But at the same time you’re being a bit unfair in your expectations. Let’s say you were a furniture designer and a client had asked for a four-legged table. Would you really be free to make a cantilevered wood and glass one, against their wishes? It’s the same as when Nurb asks whether you can use the NikeID configurator to make a Nike shoe look like an Adidas one. No you can’t, but if you were a designer at Nike you couldn’t do that either. All designers work within constraints; we’re lucky because our companies or clients then invest a lot of money to make the things we design, and so mass customisation tools look restrictive to us. To a consumer whose only choice previously has been to buy a particular product or not, mass customisation tools introduce freedom.

Exactly I think our future lies in creating templates for our customers and aiding/informing the people who will create/write the tools.

And me also think the NIkeID-project is nothing more than a marketing-gimmick…look how cool we are and how we appreciate the opinion of the customer. Maybe it started with the best of intentions but I can’t help to think that with this tool they get lot’s of info on different target-groups and their likes. And we are still staying inside the shoe-box.



When citing sources, please provide a link so access can be gained to the research. I was only able to find one of the papers, I think. Franke and Piller (2004) -

I grabbed a couple of quotes from the paper:

We have to admit, however, that the external validity of our approach is limited, that is, we always have to question the extent to which our results can be generalized.

So they even doubt the validity of their data.

Therefore, our data is biased in favor of young and adept persons who are familiar with the internet. … In order to obtain a sufficiently large sample of n = 165 participants, we asked 300 students “Would you be interested in taking part in a short research experiment? You will get a watch in return.” The acceptance rate thus came to 55%.

A small market segment and the most likely to want customization. And then they could only get 55% to participate with a free watch. So what percentage would actually spend the time and use their own money to go through the customization process? They never asked that question in the research.

In this case, the number of standards necessary would be 134 (models of watches) for 100% market coverage and 101(models of watches) if the manufacturer settled for attaining this 80% satisfaction level for only 80% of the customers.
The results show that a relatively large number of standard designs are necessary for our small sample.

This gave me the biggest facepalm. Since when is an 80% market share possible in the watch industry? This is the problem, the findings are in la-la land when compared to actual business practices which has always been my point. An 80% market share would be great, and so would unicorns prancing in the woods. I think the latter is more likely. Don’t get me wrong, customization has its place, but with dozens, if not hundreds of companies offering dozens, if not hundreds of products, the market is well blanketed. The customized market is small and no business should jump on any customization bandwagon without any real market potential.

My proof potential is very limited? It is impossible to prove something doesn’t exist. I cannot prove customization doesn’t exist just like I can’t prove unicorns don’t exist. The onus is to show what market share customization does have, which you haven’t shown. I do know there is nothing in most every retail store that allows customization of the products they sell. Or does WalMart have a customization kiosk I don’t know about?

Incorrect. Dell does not offer customization on its printers (unless you consider adding a power cable “customization”). Also with all of their desktops and laptops, you can choose “Our most popular options – ships out the next day” or their “FastTrack Systems”, neither of which are customizable. Do you have figures for what sold is customized and what is not. And don’t you think “options” is a loose definition of “customization”?

I do agree that some customization would have advantages… adjusting the sizes of shelves and tables of designs that I like, so they fit a certain room, could be handy. Maybe even customized surface treatments, like lasered or CNCed in patterns you can create