Scenario B.5: Mass Customization – Unique Solutions

One product for one person. A solution for every personal need.

Scenarios of Sustainability for Design

Nobody knows... the troubles we've seen...

If you could make the perfect digital camera. Would you need a new one? If you played an active role in the design and creation of your winter coat, would it last more than one season? If the couch was uniquely and individually yours, would it make the trip to your new home intact, rather than left by the side of the road in anticipation for something “new” from IKEA?

Mass customization and personal fabrication is becoming a thing of the present. It is being written about aggressively in WIRED magazine and is a very real movement. Design is becoming more democratic, the tools available to more people and the process of turning idea from concept to reality is being fuelled by emerging entrepreneurial models and micro-financing.

"The Oona is a simple, versatile smart phone stand that can do as much in the physical world as your phone can do in the virtual." Just what we need...

Does this mean we will have better stuff that will last longer, meet more individual needs, and slow down cycles of consumption?

Or does it mean people can experiment more, feed their insatiable desire for newness and novelty, thereby producing more crap with even shorter lifecycle? Looking at the products being enabled through Kickstarter and others like it, I’d say the latter.

But do not despair. Neil Gerschenfeld (perhaps my favourite name to say, ever) writes about this idea in its most utopian possibilities within the book “FAB”. It outlines how empowering communities with access to design tools and fabrication processes allows individuals to create novel approaches to solving person problems. These can include everything from farmers in Africa developing tools to prevent them being swindled when their produce is being weighed at market, to communities in America being able to access ideas out of their previous grasp, and become inspired to take on careers such as engineering that were not in their realm of possibility before.

Give a person a fish you make them happy for a day, right? Give them a fishing rod and they’re happy for months? Give them a fab lab and when they get sick of fish they can build something to catch lobsters. Then they can build a boat and travel somewhere new…

Yes, I may be being a little facetious, but that is the utopian ideal of personal fabrication. And I love it. But as with everything there is going to be a boring balance required between the raw materials and the life of the created ideas. If mass customization occurs in our current paradigm of materials it is going to be problematic.

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