Already in 1980 Alvin Toffler coined the term ProSumer in his book The Third Wave, when he predicted that the role of producers and consumers would begin to blur and merge. In todays world we are experiencing how the increased empowerment of individuals activates the dream of a new self-sufficient small scale economic model.
Technology and creativity is the driving force behind the change. The maker-ship of individuals is powered by new smart autonomous business models that enable small scale production. Fabrication Labs that pop up around the globe are the grass-root of what 3D printing can become for the consumer of the future. Another example of this is the “The Digital Making Network”; 100kGarages.com. Shapeways is already here and demonstrates that it really is possible to have your stuff made on demand. The threshold for a 3D printer in your kitchen just became lower with the RepRap that can be made for just 350 euro. It makes you wonder what it will mean to companies that make stuff. Will stuff simply become free or open-source digital files that can be downloaded and printed from the local kiosk? Are we at the verge of a transformation similar to what happened to the music industry?
Doing- or making-it-yourself gets a completely new dimension.
Today big companies and brands offer mostly late customization, an option for consumers to step-in at the end of the production process to impress a bit of personality to a product. Such as designing your own Senseo or TV frame, a guided customization process with outcomes that have the approval of the brands (design) custodians. The consumers of the future will have increasingly high expectations of how they can be part of the creation process, how their ideas can be heard, and how they can customize and personalize from A to Z.
So is there really a future where everybody becomes a producer and consumer? Is it really an attractive idea to many to create and provide their own ideas, plans and designs? The truth is probably somewhere in-between. It takes more effort to customize than it does to mass-consume.
Sometimes we are in the mood for choices, sometimes we want to be guided towards attractive standard solutions. Sometimes we feel creative enough to want to be part of the creation process; sometimes we want to let a professional think it through. The small and long tail economy for sure is here to stay, the drivers are very strong. Big companies need to start thinking of how they can involve their consumers more in their innovation processes and brand, so that they stay loyal and engaged and so that they harvest the collective intelligence that is present in their crowd.
Published in Philips Design; New Value by Design June 2010