Written by Lew Epstein, general manager at Coalesse
For centuries, the act of refining an item before it’s fabricated has been seen as a mark of privilege, the exclusivity of the tailor-made. The significance of the bespoke suit, the commissioned jewel, even the made-to-order meal or craft-blended coffee preserves the high value of what is seen as custom.
It’s about hand-selected ingredients, slower cultivation and richer stories to share. It is the anti-assembly line, desirable and aspirational because it’s unique, in some artistic fashion.
In the rising era of home and product design, this phenomenon has been embodied in the one-to-one relationship between a client and an architect or designer. For the even more collective domain of a workplace, customisation becomes that much more valuable to a larger group of people or a scalable set of products.
Over the years we have witnessed several ‘waves’ of customisation, with customer participation increasing at each step of the way. In the beginning, specially-made objects or environments were created for us, as opposed to by, or with us. The focus was primarily on the artist—the designer, the architect, the studio – and we were their captivated audience.
Next came the growing desire to make something ours; that hardwired human aspiration to ornament, illustrate and differentiate ourselves. Personalisation brought a growing sense of involvement and personal expression, motivating the consumer to join the design process. In the modern era of stock goods, we change things after they’re made.
Then an emerging third wave, where much of the new customisation is now being imagined: the application of unique design choices during the manufacturing of our own product.
This is the deeper act of participating in the design process, customising an existing form. In essence, we have become co-creators of the artefact. We are able to customise by adjusting a basic form with the tools of colour, pattern, material, feature, size and shape. Every option is built on the same frame, yet the outcomes are vastly different, and very personal.
What’s the difference, then, from the bespoke? Time is one factor. Where the bespoke is made from scratch, this type of customisation begins with a pre-set framework or platform. The manufacturing may be partially automated so that the item is produced faster, making the customised product more attainable, without sacrificing personalisation.
Another factor is technology. Modern engineering has created incredible advances in materials and machine enabled design. The era of co-created artefacts now enables us to curate nearly every aspect of our experience—clothes, cars, vacations, social connections—often with just a few easy clicks on a screen. It’s formidable, and a new form of empowerment.
Today’s consumers have become both critics and creators, demanding a more personalised service and revelling in the chance to help create the products and services they consume.
Coalesse had recently announced the two winners of its ‘Less than Five Chair’ competition, asking designers in the region to create a new version of the Michael Young-designed furniture piece.