Perhaps you’ve done it already: design a product on a web site yourself using a configurator. And then pay for it. Then it’s shipped to you. And you hopefully enjoy it. This new level of customized product development and selling — no marketing required — has mushroomed to unseen levels with the growing capabilities and sophistication of online retailing.
We’ve seen mass customization before in the offline and online worlds. For instance, when buying a custom home (get it? custom) or a tract home with “options” and other big ticket items like personal computers or cars – but they have their limitations. And certainly making your own T-shirts, mugs and the like has been around forever. But with the explosion of online retailing, never before have so many products available to customize: from simpler items like designing your own jeans (bell bottoms anyone?) to creating an entire room of custom furniture. We can decide the material, colors, finishes and a plethora of other choices with the click of a button, a mere hope, preference or coincidence before.
If you haven’t seen this new DIY design trend, here are some examples. And these are just some of the hundreds of web sites one can go these days to make exactly what we want.
When one thinks about this idea of consumers purchasing precisely what they envisioned, it is the golden ticket for a sale. We should — theoretically — be elated with the purchase (maybe not the price since we will pay more for this customization) but it is made-to-order in its truest form. And while DIY design can be very enticing to people who know exactly what they want, it is not ideal for the consumer with a fuzzy idea of what they want and are moved through the sales cycle by information gathering, inspiration and desire.
I then started mulling over this designed-by-me concept and it seemed to bring up some important questions about the shopping, evaluating and buying experience that we might not even realize on first blush. For instance:
Where Art Thou Thrill of the Kill? If I am designing my own product, I will surely love it, but there will be none of the joy or excitement in discovering such a “find”. How many times have we been with friends or by yourself and been looking for the “perfect” something, only to find it at some rare shop or a place we normally shop slashed 50 percent off? How great is that?! (Truth be told women probably get this “feeling” more than men) What makes that moment so special too is that we found something we wanted – an essential part of the buying and long-term valuation process.
Where art thou Creativity? What does this mean for product development and design (and conversely for marketers) when they are pushing the concept of DIY and that’s it. DIY design also deletes the strategy and planning (and fun) for the professionals who design products (not to mention potentially deleting their jobs as well). Sure they can provide the pieces to choose from, but there are no finished creations. just a mish mash of checks and stripes and squares as it were. And this is sad for industry in some way. It creates a production-driven environment that is dictated by parts of the whole.
Where Art Thou Future? This all got me wondering too…What about other kinds of products we can create. What if I like an artist’s style, for instance. Can I take certain colors, styles and images and blob them together to create a Keith Haringesque mural for my own pleasure?Or Monet? And if I’ve done it myself, is it really art or more of a paint-by-numbers product? Part of the mystery and joy of life is surprise, passion, desire…we don’t know where we will find it on the open marketplace.
And don’t get me wrong, I could very much enjoy a clutch purse I myself designed of yellow leather with zebra pattern and silver-plated handle and also claim bragging rights if anyone likes it (“Why yes, I designed it myself”)
But I also know my creation was not very…creative.