Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Customization as the Abdication of Design

In an earlier post, it was considered that customization is a form of satisficing, an unhappy compromise between the cheapness and availability of mass-produced products and the expense and patience that must be abided to have something personalized.  But very often, customization represents an abdication of design: the maker provides an array of options for customers to customize the product to their own liking, because the designer has no idea what that might be.

The drawback to this approach is that it assumes that the customer has expertise.   To choose the product options that would best serve their needs, the customer must be highly familiar with the product, their needs, and the correlation of the two.   Where customers are not experts, their choices are made almost randomly, or at best on specious and superficial reasoning: the customer may choose a frivolous option (the color of a vehicle) over a more functional one (its cargo capacity).   

A second drawback is the additional effort necessary to learn the customization tools, which can often be overly complicated, again resulting in poor choice that will be discovered later.   This may be manifest in the inability to use a specific tool for a specific reason, or in the cognitive overload that results from too much choice, which causes customers to disengage or make a superficial decision to simplify the buying process, to the detriment of the ownership experience.

While the company may feel that it is exonerated from dissatisfaction due to the skill and choice of the customer, the customer still regards the product as unsatisfactory holds the maker to blame for his dissatisfaction.   The company is not typically held liable in the legal sense, but this is merely a short-term mitigation, as the customer’s perception of the maker is diminished considerably.  A disgruntled customer is seldom a repeat customer, and often a dissuader of other prospects.

There are of course mitigations to this risk: the maker may help the customer to understand their options and their impact on the ownership experience, or to visualize the totality of their choices before the purchase is made, but a mitigated compromise remains a compromise – it is “less bad” rather than “better” in terms of having a meaningful impact on the outcome.

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