Individual Self-Design vs Community Self-Design

The customer as a co-creator is becoming more important. Self-design is a new trend. Nowadays customers can customize anything; from self-designed skis (e.g. Edelwiser), to suggesting preferable food flavours (e.g. Lays). Many companies offer their customers a so-called Mass Customization (MC) toolkit to design their own products online. But isn’t it extremely inefficient and difficult to create all these self-designs separately? Isn’t it extremely costly in terms of time and money, for company and customer, to make use of this isolated, dyadic interaction process between an individual customer and the Mass Customization toolkit?

When you are less experienced in designing your own product, you will cope with a lot of difficulties. If you lack experience and/or creativity, you have to create ideas by brainstorming with other people and get inspiration from existing designs on the Internet. If someone asks an inexperienced person to design its own product, and they have to start from scratch they would definitely have a hard time figuring out where to start and what their actual preferences are. This is mainly because there are a lot of possibilities. Many people would start with designing different alternatives but this trial-and-error method is really time-consuming and not effective.

Above-mentioned statements and arguments are reasons for Franke, Keinz and Schreier (2008) to do some research about the Mass Customization toolkit. They thought about how to improve these toolkits, and they did some research whether it would be useful to include user communities.
They found out that peer-generated design solutions and peer-based feedback should be included in the existing MC toolkits because it would influence self-designs positively. More customers are able to design their own products by either adapting or getting inspired by other designs. Other users’ designs can be a great starting point for the less experienced designer. Think about the customized shoes from Nike or Vans. Before you create your own design, you will see a few designs that already have been created. There is an option to adapt these models or adapt a professional design. In other words, Nike/Vans creates a starting point for the less experienced designers and this will help customers to get a better outcome.

The peer-input can also be used as an external feedback channel. Through this way customers are able to show their preliminary product to others, who can help to improve the product. An example is SoundCloud. Anyone can upload their sounds and music and at the same time people are able to criticize and comment each other’s music. One of the community guidelines of SoundCloud is ‘Criticize, but do it constructively’. Because of the user community feedback, anyone can improve their songs. Schermafbeelding 2015-03-27 om 17.20.36 Figure 1. ‘Write your comment on SoundCloud’ (SoundCloud, 2015)

By integrating user communities in the MC toolkit, it is proved that customers are better able to create a more systematic problem-solving behaviour and it leads to self-designed products that meet the preferences of the customer more effectively.

Finally, there is one perfect example of a company that is making use of the integration of a user community: Threadless. When a potential customer starts to create their self-design, he has access to all the designs that have been created in the past. He is allowed to use and adapt other designs. After that the self-designer can ask the ‘Threadless community’ for help: ‘Do they like your design?’ and ‘Do they have any tips for improvements?’ Threadless is integrating both existing solution chunks and external feedback in the problem-solving behaviour. In the end this will lead to a more satisfied customer and the customer will value the product higher based on the perceived preference fit, purchase intention, and willingness to pay.


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