Mass customization is The Trend of the Year, As Customers Get To Decide What They Want

mio at icffLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Every year there is a trend at to be found at ICFF, and usually Jaime and Isaac Salm of MIO are on top of it. This year, these TreeHugger regulars pick up on mass customization, bringing computers and printing technology together to allow customers to personalize furniture with either their own art or photography, or their choice of work by artists and designers.

mio instructionsLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
It is simply a matter of choosing your cabinet, your image and off you go, with your own Naked Art from Mio.

yube customizationLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The Yube Cube is a storage system that we should have covered on TreeHugger before; it is a cube in a box that stacks to make a bookshelf or storage system. The frames are made of Woodlite, "a proprietary compound of recycled non-toxic plastic mixed with 30% bamboo, the planet's fastest growing renewable wood resource. Unlike ordinary plastics, Woodlite even smells good." The panels are made from sugar cane pulp.

yube cube marilynLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Yube now lets customers send in an image to be printed onto the panel doors of the cubes. More at YubeCube

Rollout custom wallpaperLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Rollout prints out wallpaper (pvc free with water based inks) on a giant inkjet printer to your specifications. I am not sure that I agree with them when they write:

Gone are the days of slick minimalism. We embrace texture, expression, emotion and color, filling the gaping hole left by modernism. More is definitely more. And that's what we deliver to our clients. More innovation. More creativity. More art. More individuality. More community. More you. Need we say more?

Complete customization: "You dream it. We make it." Rollout

grow house growLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I had a long chat with Katie Deedy of Grow House Grow about how wallpaper is more traditionally made:

  • Katy draws a small section of the design;
  • She uses Illustrator to multiply the pattern;
  • She sends it to a silk screen builder, who hand builds the screen, about 36 inches by 45 inches, and then makes the stencil;
  • It then goes to the printer, who lays out paper on a 75 yard long table in a converted bowling alley;
  • The printer then screens each color separately, four full sweeps of the paper.

It is complex and time consuming, and a very graphic demonstration of how technology has radically changed the way we think about making things. But there is a palpable quality to Katie's work that you just don't get out of the inkjet.

frame and panelEdward Hale/Promo image

Over at Wanted Design, designer Edward Hale presents a system for building mass customized furniture.

Working to create a stronger bond between consumer and product, this line generates engagement by including people in both design and assembly. Driven by an online interface that allows users to customize their designs and carried over into the furniture, which employs custom hardware to make it easy and fun to assemble, Frame and Panel brings some of the agency that people experience in the digital realm, into the physical world they live in.

Watch the terrific video explanation of the process.

homagLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

When I was in Italy recently I attended Xylexpo, the world's largest display of woodworking equipment, and saw machinery like this that can turn out an entire flatpacked kitchen in seconds.

latheLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I saw cutting and routing machines that could cut out complex forms that used to take hours for a trained craftsperson, in a couple of minutes.

wudLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I worry for the future of people like Katie Deedy of Grow House Grow or the cabinet makers of companies like WUD Furniture Design, deep in the heart of Brooklyn. Mass customization gives the customer what they want in a hurry, but relies on technologies that change the way things are made, substituting computers for craft and art. Your typical end user printing a wallpaper at Rollout doesn't have Katie's eye, her artistic talent. It will be a lesser world without it.

Mass customization is The Trend of the Year, As Customers Get To Decide What They Want
More and more designers and companies are letting the end user decide what they want their furniture to look like.

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