Designing all for one, one for all

A guest post by John Briscella:

Streets Clocks

Interactive Product Design, Mass customization, Co-creation, Online Design Tools… call it what you will, but there is rising interest in designs made for and “by” the individual. Applications and their intuitive interfaces are increasingly making it possible for costumers to become the designers. At shapeways, We would like to introduce some interesting projects currently exemplifying these design principles with the intention to give an insight on future intentions for designers.

Innovation of industry in the 19th century was the interchangeable part, which lead to 20th century mass production. Thus, 21st century innovation and beyond realizes on interactive production. In the distant past, a designer would craft their object under their patron’s specifications. Each design would take a large amount of labor and produce a small number of products. Mass productions later changed the designer’s role to solely designing an object, producing a large amount, and distributing it through shops for the public. Today, you can still find these systems battling each other, yet, the designer’s role has evolved. The designer is no longer a designer but a communicator between the individual and the product. We inform the customer directly with a series of design decisions possible in altering the final output. The final product is delivered directly from the production facility.

Shapeways offer an array of Co-Creation Design Tools such as:
LightPoem, Photoshaper, Cufflinks, and Stylus… just to name a few. The interface is simple. The customers have a special attachment to the objects. And a sense of emotion relationship with the design invokes pride and gratification when your able to say “I made this… for you… to remember that special moment of ours…”

Following are a few projects that touch on these same points.

F-cut by FREITAG

Mass Customization is nothing new. In 2002, Freitag launched F-cut, an application that allows its users to select different areas of a recycled truck tarpaulin to create unique patterns for their bags. Drop and Rotate a cutout template onto the tarp and instantly preview your final design.

Earth Collection by Fluid Forms

Fluid Forms started in 2005. By using data sets of map information, Fluid Forms creates jewelry with topological maps. As simple as using google maps, navigate to your favorite location and instantly preview the final product. The product is 3d printed and casted in silver.

Fluid Vase by SupaBold

To create a vase, experiment with fluid dynamics and physics to choose a moment of the beautiful phenomenon. The software introduces a movie timeline to negotiate the choice of your final design. The vases are 3D printed.

Cell Cycle by Nervous Systems

Nervous Systems started in 2007 with the intention of creating products embedded with structures found in nature. The Cell cycle applet generates a pattern based off interaction of specific variables and physical inputs. The bracelets are 3D printed.

Xylem by Federico Weber

As Federico Weber’s 2009 thesis, the application takes design to the next step. The chair and table series parametrically alters the form and dimensions. By combining different automated manufacturing processes, assembly is standardized yet the outcome is dramatically different. Each set can have custom dimensions based of the individuals style, height, and preferences.

What do these products have in common?
Made-on-Demand. Each product is made after the design has been ordered. Though the objects may sell in shops without using the interface, once a customer learns that they can make their own, they want to experiment.

Whats Next?
Shapeways offer an interface for interfacing with co-created products. Allowing our community of designers to setup choices available to inform the customer to alter the design.

A big thanks to John Briscella for taking the time to give an overview on some Interactive Product Design/Mass customization/ Co-creation/Online Design, Check out his blog for more cool and customizable design and his Coroflot portfolio to see some of his very impressive work.


  1. Andy McDonald

    Good article with some great examples.

    What I think sets these interfaces apart is that they go beyond simple product configuration / customisation by framing the experience within a meaningful context that reveals the design process / vision. For me, that is what craft is all about.

    It seems the next logical step is to move the interaction beyond the screen and into the real world – this would expand the creative opportunities for designers thereby enhancing the emotional value for customers. For instance, imagine SupaBold had their own little shop; using a few Microsoft Kinects calibrated for live motion capture, customers would be able to experiment with a variety of actual objects, liquids and containers to create their unique vase.

    I recently developed a retail interface for Timorous Beasties that allowed customers to co-create a digitally printed cushion using a Nintendo Wiimote and RFID-enabled fabric swatches. You can view a video here:

    1. John Briscella

      Hey Andy,
      Interesting work. Seems as if you know what’s going on…

      Though I haven’t mentioned devices that can react with products, there are a few that are out there already. Fluid Forms started with the Cassius Lamp. ( ) By hitting the punching bag, you form your own lamp. I can’t wait to see what can be made with Kinects.

      Yet, my direction was to lead to “interface for interfacing.” Which involves all types of inputs and allows users to connect and build their own custom configuration. This is possible with Shapeways through text fields and buttons. If you are excellent at coding, Processing is a great tool for everyone to code their ideas. Yet, there is an exclusion of people who are more visual.
      Creating a tool that interfaces interfacing would allow more users to make their own design configurations. For example. Rhino’s grasshopper ( )
      Components arranged to create generative forms. I hope to make a tutorial soon on Grasshopper.

    2. Andy McDonald

      Hi John,

      Although my research deals primarily with digital textile printing, I’m interested in the design of co-creation experiences that serve as an interface for all forms of digital fabrication.

      The Cassius Lamp is a very interesting example: whilst the real-world version is one of the best physical co-creation interfaces I’ve seen, its online counterpart is somewhat disappointing compared to their other concepts (there seems to be a mismatch between physical gesture and virtual action).

      Regarding the notion of the ‘interface for interfacing’, in my view, the value of co-creation lies in the process not the product therefore it is the responsibility of the designer to craft the interface / experience. The question is how: i) by using ‘interface builder’ tools or ii) by developing a custom interface using Flash, Processing, openFrameworks, etc.

      The problem with the first approach is that the designer will always be limited to the features enabled by the developer. In the case of the Shapeways Co-Creator Platform, the capabilities are extremely limited and the resulting experience is generic and very poor. For what it’s worth, the fundamental problem is that the interface and the model are independent of one another.

      By going the native route, the designer has creative control over the interface / experience. I take your point about excluding those who cannot write software and I think visual programming tools such as Grasshopper for Rhino and ModKit for Arduino are useful and important. Ultimately, I believe craftsmen should be able to make tools as well as use them and this is no different when the tools are digital.


    3. John Briscella

      I believe craftsmen should be able to make tools too, or at least know how to sharpen them.

      While speaking in analogies, Design tools are very much like a musical instruments. A kazoo is very simple to play, yet everyone sounds the same. A oboe is probably the hardest instrument to master. To make a good composition, you have to blend the instruments correctly. A composer doesn’t necessarily know how to play every instrument but can arrange them. So a designer is more like a composer. The score is just a way to communicate to instruments.

    4. Duann

      Great analogy John.

      There is much to learn in the field of design and the many genres of music, the playing, recording, production, distribution, marketing and the handling of digital files, IP, copyright etc. etc. etc. etc….

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