Variability in Products

Embracing the diversity of humans will allow us to find the path to true happiness.

  • approx. quote of Malcom Gladwell

How much does this apply to product design?
How many variant products do we develop based on one idea?
Are products supposed to make us happy?
Are we supposed to find that one variety of design that truly makes us happy?

feel free to answer one of these or just pose your own question based on the quote provided.

One thought along these lines is why can’t products that typically have a plastic outer housing have a plastic frame with textile covering? You could get diversity on multiple levels:

  1. The factory could buy multiple fabric patterns and colors and create a diverse line of product looks.
  2. For those so inclined, they could download the fabric pattern for their product and sew their own cover based on their choice of textile.

Yes, there are some QC/QA issues with this, but what do you think of the overall idea?

I took a couple of history of design courses at my University…I think one of the biggest ideas I left with was the fact that personal taste cannot be predicted no matter how much research you prepare yourself with. And Good design is not made by designers but rather by personal taste…ultimatley the consumer chooses what good design is…and their purchasing decisions will almost always be made by personal taste.

I think if you believe in just one product too much or believe that there is only one solution… if you put 100% of your faith into saying that our idea/product is the way to go…and that different colors are enough to give the public choices…is inevitably going to fail.

So how are we as designers trying to account the millions of personal tastes…how can we make more and more option available??..

.I think your textiles idea is a really good start…customizing/stitching a textile is even better…what about allowing a customer to design the textile also…giving them the tools to make your product look the way they wish it could!

Just look at the upholstered furniture industry - you pick a frame style and a fabric, leather, etc. Lower end gives you fewer covering choices, high end companies will do ANYTHING you’ll pay for. If outer covering choice was the only thing that consumers cared about, we’d have one generic chair/sofa/etc. shape and that would be it. The reality is that there are a dizzying number of frame styles on the market, to suit every taste, style, budget, whim, etc. - and more are introduced every year (although I will say that its not always to meet a demand!).

I’m a big supporter of the DIY culture. While I am a believer in industrial design, it can only take you so far when it comes to satisfying every consumer’s individual wants. At some point, the consumer will have to take over and make the product their own, if they so desire. Right now there’s a trend towards being unique, buying niche products, and factoring in a lot of DIY potential is going to be needed to satisfy this type of demand.

There’s a lot of resistance to this, as an entire world we’ve invested decades of time and countless amounts of money into perfecting ways to churn out identical copies of products day and night. Its a serious and worrying threat to those who own the means of production. The average consumer couldn’t care less about your investment in manufacturing, they just want the products they desire.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind seeing a return to local craftspeople producing products for local markets, its a career redirect I’d love to make. It doesn’t make sense for every product out there, obviously, but enough to make it possible.

Awww…yes Craft and Design…

Besides going with a DIY mentality, how can we as designers figure out ways to make customization more affordable?

I think manufacturing is one obvious place to start. Industrialization was built on being able to crank out thousands to millions of identical copies of one product. Processes need to be re-evaluated or improved to allow customization at various stages of manufacture.

For example - at the company I work for, we have set up our finishing line to allow customers to pick from the entire color deck of a certain coatings manufacturer, giving them roughly 1000 potential color choices. We’ve been able to do this by re-training employees and changing processes to allow rapid equipment cleaning along with having finishing product tinted in small batches locally to both minimize lead times and reduce overhead from having to stock every color. If we tinted finishing products on site, we’d be even better off. The additional cost for all this is negligible, and creates a parallizing array of color choices. Suprisingly, the ‘average Joe’ customers have not been that receptive to the wide array of colors (too much choice?); interior designers love it, though.

But we also aren’t churning out a lot of product, pretty small scale in comparison. Kinda gives credit to ‘small is the new big’. Seems like the more product you make, the harder it will be to implement customization, though. It just takes a willingness to change, for the most part.

Wow 1000 choices? That does seem a bit much…so I guess…how much is too much is the question now huh? I can see how a designer type would love that over the average joe type…also it seems as if once you get outside the 12 crayola color boundary and get into the huge box of 96 colors…thats when you really start to cook…but I can see what you mean about finishes…tinted…polished…shiny vs matte finish…semi gloss…very similar to paint…hmm…I wonder if creating collaborations between our products and the finishing experts and color experts…would be the way to go…more like…finish customizing your product by going through our partner company that specializes in textiles, colors, and finishes…!

I think really great design means the most appropriate solution for the broadest segment of customers. It’s easy to design a great product for a person. It’s hard to design a great product for a market. Which is better for society?

Appropriate solution for the broadest segment sounds to me more like an approximate solution for the statistical spectrum of groups of people…

I belong to the Male spectrum
I belong to the 18-28 yrs of age spectrum
I belong to the Mexican American spectrum
I belong to the child of Durangense/Zacatecano Immigrants spectrum
I belong to the Low Middle Class spectrum
I belong to the Very much in debt white collar working class who came from blue collar parents
I belong to the Generation of Sesame Street, Transformers, TMNT, Gangs, Rap, and College Graduate Spectrum.

My point is I am not just a person, I wear many different hats and many different faces, I belong to more cultures and subcultures than I can count on my hands…People are not Broad…they are Diverse…We are diverse…

So maybe Great Design is a solution that can adapt to or grow with a person .

Its hard to design a great product for a market because great products are only great at creating a market…
Its hard to create a market…sounds more like it.
Have Markets become about what we want…and not what we need?

It is easy to create a great product just for me…or for you…
so isn’t this what we should be aiming for? is this the easy route?

(I apologize…if any of this is confusing…I’m not trying to say what’s right…but creating a discussion about our current situation as designers)

Why dismiss DIY so quick? Sure you may think DIY puts designers out of business, but rather I propose that it demands a new solution to a different problem for design.

Instead of designers working towards “solving” the problem, isnt the challenge of DIY for designers of how to frame the problem and enable the solution?

A different mindset, but no doubt know in the age of ReadyMade and 3D printers, something that should be thought of more carefully before it takes the industry by surprise.

just look at the catch-up act now played by the big music/movie industry that was always so protective of the process now in light of GarageBand and YouTube.

I would think the creativity of product designers would certainly be better served to recognize the need for control and creation in DIY rather than to ignore it.

And certainly there are lots better solutions to designed DIY out there I believe than painting your sneakers or picking colors/patterns for a Smart car body panel…


The factory could buy multiple fabric patterns and colors and create a diverse line of product looks.
For those so inclined, they could download the fabric pattern for their product and sew their own cover based on their choice of textile.

Sorry that’s its taken so long for me to reply, been really busy around here (at work), Well I might have been quick to dismiss DIY, because we were going on the tangent of manufacturing, but I see your point now, you may be right on the fact DIY’ers are really pushing the envelope on the custom products…The biggest innovators have always been the DIY kinda people, so I believe it would have to take a true innovative designer DIY or otherwise to really pioneer a design system that could take into account the thousands and hundred thousands types of tastes and flavors of their product whatever that may be.

In the end even the DIY is an entrepreneur and they’re going to have to figure out a way to allow their customers to pick and choose more than just the colors of the rainbow…we’re talking textile patterns, textures, finishes…and so and so forth…I really feel like to get this right now in the market its considered high end luxury…so the bigger challenger even bigger than devising a system would be again…offering all of this at a modest, economical price.

LEGITIMACY IN PRICE or ECONOMIC VALIDITY AND VARIABILITY…are two things that should be taken into account whether you’re a DIY or a Corporate guy.