Re: Mass Customization

From: Nick Osborn (
Date: Wed Jan 02 2002 - 13:49:12 EET


Interesting questions - for my part (as a qualified industrial designer having just survived the annual orgy of consumerism that is called "Christmas") the answers are as follows:

1. As the saying goes, "There's no accounting for (individual) taste" - chances are, if someone has designed a product themselves and they are happy with it, then that's it - happy customer / user / designer / consumer / whatever. (There should be a word for a designer who is also the end user...but that's another thread..)

2. Remember when you first starting using simple graphics packages on a PC and playing around with different colours? It's amazing how different the same (moulded / fabricated / "mass" produced) product can look in different colour combinations. For me, this says no extra tooling needed, just a clever way of ordering different coloured raw materials (e.g. masterbatch for injection moulding of plastic parts, for instance) and moulding parts to order. We do this all the time for designers who want to "try a few different colours in the real material to see how it looks".

3. Teenagers will help drive the early adoption of mass customisation systems. As the most tech-savvy and change-friendly group of consumers on the planet, in exchange for programming your VCR they will demand 30 minutes of premium rate web access time to design themselves a new snap-on phone cover (complete with textures, etc.) for that big party next weekend....

4. The growth of good, reliable agents to do the looking / advising / selecting for you gives the illusion of control whilst all the tricky bits are taken care of in the nuts and bolts dept. of whatever software it is you're using to make your choices. When it comes to freeform sculpting of new complex shapes, that's into new and uncharted territory for a lot of people (think of a beginners pottery class, for example).

5. Like any system, there should be an entry level (say where people are guided through colour choices / combinations only) and more advanced levels (say where you can choose which components to include/ swap out / remove) and finally expert level (e.g. design your own gym shoes from scratch).

Finally, any mass cust. system must be FUN, EASY to use and RELIABLE if it going to succeed - you're asking people to spend their own time doing something that up until now has been done by someone else. (OK, so there's self-interest involved too, but only to a point). With regard to your "forum of engineers" question, whilst I know there are plenty of "non-engineers" who subscribe, I still believe the answer is YES.

Best regards


Nick Osborn
Managing Director
Swift Technologies Limited
Tel: +44 (0) 1354 650 789

"Real Parts Real Quick - Because Time is Money"

>>> "Steven Pollack" <> 02/01/02 10:02:09 >>>
Dear List,

I recently had the interesting experience of purchasing a new pair of gym
shoes. I dutifully went to the wall of left shoes at the mall store and was
amazed by the proliferation of shoe designs and materials. I have no doubt
Rapid Prototyping technology advances have fueled this bonanza of choice.
In fact I started feeling like an old man (of 36) thinking how in the world
am I supposed to choose from among all these crazy styles and wistfully
conjuring up simpler times when shoe designs offered less choices.

Now this is not mass customization but I am aware that there are sites that
allow for enough choice control to be given such a title. My question is
this: Does the general public have the desire to make these kinds of choices
or enough design skill to feel comfortable in making these kinds of choices?

The current mass production driven system of manufacturing makes this
question irrelevent because the product engineer and product designer
pre-digest the available options and present the marketplace with well
thought out designs. But as we are all seeing CAD/CAM is lowering the cost
threshold for providing one off designs. Automated manufacturing systems
will undoubtedly crop up where the user becomes the designer, turning the
designer/manufacturer/consumer relationship around.

Digital Jeweler, our server side CAD software walks the line in between
these alternatives by offering customization of a pre-engineered core design
through the use of knowledge engineering. My question as far as I am
concerned is if the consumer would desire to go the next step further in
having "complete" design control within a system that either guides for
proper manufacturing parameters or mandates it. Is the general population
incapable of this level of design choice meaning it would be a niche product
for those brave enough to try it or is the current state of
consumerism(choosing between alternatives) just a temporary natural
consequence of the marketplace created by the industrial revolution and mass

Would your answer change if there were design helpers in the program such
that while the user could be allowed to design something outside the bounds
of good design or manufacturing, pop-up helpers would alert the user and
give them alternatives to their current choices? What if the helpers were
also design driven?
Or do you believe the user would need to be corralled inside a system that
only produces "good results" as pre-determined by those knowledgeable about
product design?

Finally, is the analysis of this issue fatally skewed by this being a forum
of engineers? d:^D

Steven Pollack
President, Digital Jeweler
660 Vernon Ave
Glencoe, IL 60022

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