DESIGN & CRAFT
Game of Thrones, Customization and Goldilocks
The latest steroid boost in customization can be attributed to giant strides in technology and signals a big departure from Henry Ford’s approach in the 1900s in which, “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
But customization isn’t new, it’s how we originally produced goods, look at how clothing used to be individually made by dressmakers and tailors. Mass production came later which, paradoxically gave rise to mass customization, a term coined by Stan Davis in his 1987 book Future Perfect. The resurgence of personalized products is not surprising.
Within a noisy marketplace, it’s that Goldilocks moment of finding the one that’s juuuust right. The Ikea Effect sheds some light as well; the phenomenon that suggests consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created, like assembling furniture or customizing a new kitchen. Hence, the term’s name. Levi Strauss sparked a come-back in customized products in 1994 with its Original Spin jeans for women, that measured customers in stores and sent their sizing details to its factory. The jeans were then cut electronically and shipped to customers. Other examples are not hard to find: Coke’s Share-a-Coke campaign is a more recent case of a brand’s successful implementation of personalization. Platforms like Netflix, with over 76,870 custom genres to describe movies and television shows, aren’t missing the beat either.
AI- and data-backed customization allows brands to deliver handcrafted, made-to-order items at speed. Take Adidas’ recent and arguably most pivotable project, SpeedFactory. Besides it being a great exemplification of their strategic pillars walking the walk, namely their call for co-creators, it’s also their first step into the world of smart and digitalized manufacturing. The whole system, which relies on data-driven design and machine learning, is geared towards a high level of personalization. They are essentially selling sneakers before they’re even made, with footwear being co-created by customers to tailor fit and functional needs, all at speed. SpeedFactory’s experimentation with sustainable materials as well as its zero stock and local production even give the brand brownie points in terms of eco-innovation.
Not bad, right? But what about marketers? Now that manufacturing can actually catch up with the consumer demand for personalized products, the question becomes: how does marketing keep up? As the product photography cycle eclipses the manufacturing of said product, marketers run into bottle-necks and that’s where Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) finds its sweet-spot. The beauty being that, with CG, you can visualize a product before it’s even made. This leads to businesses being able to postpone production until the last moment to allow for more individual customization, opening up more time to create. As Adidas are seeing with SpeedFactory, this leads to reduced inventory levels and an increase in efficiency. Alas, CG is not new nor is it at an infant stage; The 8.9 million people watching the finale ending of Game of Thrones can all agree we’ve well and truly arrived at sophisticated CGI. Smart brands are already taking advantage of it in relation to product visualization and as we see applications like fashion brands using computer generated influencers to flaunt new clothing lines, CGI has not only become increasingly realistic but it’s now well and truly the norm.
As what we can do in terms of manufacturing and CG deepens, so too must customization. Adidas introduced their 2016 strategy with a call for “co-creators whether inside of outside our company, to come in and work with us. We give them spaces where their ideas can spark and where collaborative exchange is encouraged”. In other words, asking consumers to go beyond just suggesting what products they’d like to see and to instead become co-creators. This is a powerful shift, like going from Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” to Hendrix’s.
And as we move beyond the age of the passive consumer, traditional configurators - with simple facet changes like color or textile—simply won’t cut it. Brands that start looking at consumers as co-designers and make it fast and easy for them to express themselves can expect increased engagement and loyalty. Relinquishing this kind of design control won’t be easy, but the future of customization lies in granting consumers their deeply felt needs of individualization and expression through guided and boundless involvement of the creation process.