The principle of mass-produced goods has always been to use a single, quality item as a template for the production of thousands or even millions of copies.
This has clearly been a postive in terms of making for a more equitable consumer experience, but anyone who shops at Ikea knows the sinking feeling that occurs when you spot that same sofa, bookcase and canvas print in your friends living room.
After decades of increasing homogenisation of the products we purchase, the desire to express our individuality is growing. This can be seen in the emerging 'Ikea Hacker' trend which has grown in popularity in recent years. DIYers take standard IKEA products and hack, personalise and repurpose the basic materials into something unique with scant regard for that poorly written instruction manual.
With the glaring exception of Apple, a large number of companies are also responding to this need for individuality and are starting to offer customisation options for their products.
The Nike website provides a tool that allows you to create custom trainer designs in order to 'Express your look.' You aren't just limited to colours either: you can also select custom materials, which goes some way to communicating just how far the manufacturing processes have come since the early days of mass-production.
Dell Design Studio
Dell also offer an online customisation tool called Design Studio.
They have a large number of pre-designed skins, and if you're feeling extra brave you could even get a laptop design to match your T-shirt. Fashion is about co-ordination after all.
It isn't just the little things that can be tailored to your tastes. Nowadays, you can even buy a car designed to match your impeccable taste. The Citroen website has a customisation tool which for their DS3 model allows you to adjust the usual vehicle specs as well as plonk a bit of graphic art right on the roof.
A part to play
The mantra behind all of these customisation tools seems to be 'Express yourself,' and allowing consumers to do so can only be a good thing. And we, as web designers and developers, have the ability to aid this progression by creating highly functional components that make the process as easy and painless as possible, allowing users to maximise their creativity and allowing companies to make the most of advances in manufacturing processes.