The specification of a consumer design toolkit to support personalised production via additive manufacturing
thesisposted on 30.11.2012, 08:54 by Matthew Sinclair
This thesis stems from the future scenario that as additive manufacturing (AM) technologies become cheaper and more readily available, consumers without formal design training will begin to customise, design and manufacture their own products. Much of this activity is likely to infringe on brands' intellectual property. The research explores the feasibility of a situation in which, rather than attempting to prohibit such activity, manufacturers engage with consumers to facilitate it, thus retaining control (albeit reduced) over their brand's image and the quality of products offered. The research begins with a literature review encompassing AM technologies and their adoption by consumers; mass customisation (MC) and the management of variation in product offering; and traditional models of industrial design (ID), including user-centred design and co-design. It finds that conventional definitions of MC and ID are unable to provide for the possibility of consumer intervention in the shape and non-modular configuration of products. Further research was then conducted in the areas of Open Design (including crowdsourcing, open sourcing and 'hardware hacking') as well as bespoke customisation, which were found to be much more accommodating of the scenario proposed. A new term, 'consumer design', is introduced and defined, together with the hypothesis that in future, the role of the industrial designer may be to design 'unfinished' products. An original classification of consumer involvement in ID is presented. Empirical research, undertaken with consumers using an iterative design software package (Genoform), demonstrated a preference for designing within pre-determined boundaries. Action research was conducted to assess consumer-oriented 3D CAD software, and compare its capabilities with that of MC toolkits. A survey of senior designers and brand managers revealed strategies for implementing and managing a brand's product design language, and a guide was created to show the relative importance of designed features. Using these findings, a prototype toolkit was created to demonstrate how a brand might facilitate consumer interaction with the shape design of a complex consumer electronics product (in this case a mobile phone). The toolkit was tested with both consumers and experienced designers to assess its viability. The research finds that it is possible to create a consumer-design toolkit which enables untrained users to change the form of a product, whilst maintaining brand equity and ensuring the product's functionality and manufacturability.