This entry recently appeared on the FluidForms blog; many thanks to Andreas Jaritz for the opportunity…
In 2006, Fast Company published a debate article entitledCan Anyone be a Designer?Andrew Keen and Joe Duffy argued the pros and cons and in the end neither one managed to convince the other (the title of this piece was one of Keen’s closing arguments), but the article raised some interesting questions which services such as those offered by FluidForms are increasingly bringing to the attention of professional designers. Questions not only about who has the right to call themselves a ‘designer’, but also about how design itself is defined.
Joe Duffy began the debate by claiming that
“…everyone plays the part of a designer. Design decisions are made by most everyone, everyday – what should I wear today? What kind of car should I buy? What color? Which options? What about the new sofa for the family room? What design style? Which color and fabric? These actually are design decisions…”
This is an argument I used in an essay early in my design studies. I thought it was insightful at the time, but then I was only 17. Of course, it’s totally wrong. These aren’t design decisions, they’re consumer choices. As Douglas Coupland said in Generation X, shopping is not creating. Arguing that choosing what car to buy is a design decision is like arguing that taking an aspirin is a medical decision, and that therefore I’m playing the part of a doctor, as one CSven argued on ProductDesignForums recently.
Julie Yessin is an industrial designer who recently received her MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. I first met Julie at the MCP 2007 Conference in Boston, and agreed to be the topic advisor for her thesis: “CREATING HOLISTIC CUSTOMIZED SOLUTIONS: The Role of Design in the Mass Customization Process”. Part of the thesis involved analysing the customer experience offered in the mass customisation of sports shoes, which she has kindly agreed to let me reproduce here:
I recruited three study participants, Stephanie, Corey, and Jordon, who are Industrial Design students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The study has a slight bias since the students all said they would not have participated in the study if not given a fifty dollar compensation fee. As college students, they found the shoes to be expensive, but seized the opportunity to receive compensation so that they could purchase custom shoes at a lower price and have the experience of using their imagination to design customized footwear. At this stage in the development of customization, the early adopters are predominantly creative consumers who tend to be leading edge, and are intrigued by experimentation (Hippel, 2005). Although Nike is a brand that has a broad appeal, the NikeiD experience is clearly targeted to a younger demographic who are particularly interested in style. Therefore, it can be strongly argued that design students are ideal candidates for the study.
Following on from Shapeways, which was spun out of a Philips research project, another Eindhoven-based company offering consumers the opportunity to design and manufacture their own products is studio:ludens. Started by Wouter Walmink and Alexander Rulkens, studio:ludens’ aim is to give people “the tools to create by using our skills as designers and our knowledge about the production process.” Like Shapeways, and ZapFab and FluidForms before them, studio:ludens have developed a set of interface tools which guide consumers through the creation of a product. Where studio:ludens shines though is in the quality of those tools, which without doubt are the most elegant and polished of all those I’ve seen so far.
Currently two design tools are available, the first, epa:kato, creates individualised drinks coasters, whereas lux:creator (still currently in development) allows consumers to design their own lamps. Both tools are Flash based which means clicking the browser’s back button will take you out of the tool, losing any designs that haven’t been saved. Causing the tool to automatically open in a new window would be an easy way to solve this.
I was recently interviewed by Duann Scott for Ponoko’s blog. He was kind enough not to edit my replies which meant the complete interview was spread over three posts. But now it’s been on Ponoko for a few days I’m putting here in it’s entirety:
What specifically brought on the idea to start incorporating consumer involvement into product design?
I’d always been interested in designing for people who are at the fringes of mainstream consumerism. When I was at the RCA my personal tutor was Tony Dunne, and he got me interested in the idea of looking at how people subvert products, (ab)use them in ways that weren’t intended by the designer. A mundane example is using a screw driver to open a tin of paint, a more ‘colourful’ example is using a vacuum cleaner as a sex aid. His theory was that you could learn a lot by looking at the way people invent new uses for products. Nowadays this isn’t particularly controversial, Eric von Hippel has written a lot about how mountain biking and kite surfing were ‘invented’ by people abusing existing products, but at the time it seemed very new, at least to me.
When I first started at Nokia there wasn’t much opportunity to put these ideas into practice, at least not at first. But Nokia was the first company to introduce customisation into mobile phones in the form of user-changeable covers. That led to a lot of concepting exercises in the design team, thinking about how customisation could be expanded further. I guess that’s where I first started to realise the logical conclusion of consumers customising products is consumers designing their own products. But at the time there didn’t seem to be any way it could be possible.
I♥Sketchhas been getting a lot of attention on design blogs this last week, which is hardly surprising because the immediate reaction from anyone whose work involves translating their 2D sketches into 3D models is “I’ve got to try it!”. Unfortunately there’s no word yet of when this might be made publicly available, but the video below, and thepaper(pdf) due to be presented atUIST08,give a good idea of how the system works. But whilst it’s designers who have got excited, my interest is also in whether I♥Sketch has implications for how non-designers might interface with CAD systems