As a perfect example of the rising demand for bespoke design in the home, one need look no further than that old stalwart of high street home furnishings: Ikea. Though this may seem like a peculiar choice to exemplify individuality, you barely need to skim the surface to see a desperate desire for uniqueness and originality from the brand’s consumers.
‘Ikea Hacking’ has become a term that anyone with a Pinterest account will be well-aware of. For those unacquainted with the ‘hacking’ zeitgeist, this trend is both curious and entirely obvious at once. Ikea offers a ‘one size fits all’ approach to home furnishings. Designs offered are largely basic, modular units that can be added together to fit the buyer’s individual needs. On its own, Ikea furniture is a fairly innocuous sight in the vast majority of homes across the world. But recently, mirroring the trend towards individuality that saturates the modern consciousness, owners of Ikea furniture have gone rogue.
Now, you can type ‘Ikea Hack’ into Google and return over 10,000,000 results. Creative householders have instigated a huge movement: the customisation of Ikea furniture. No longer are those basic, inexpensive furnishings innocuous background in a room: they are now unique talking points, centrepieces. ‘Hacked’ Ikea furniture is another way for consumers to express themselves, to have their very own piece of bespoke design in their home.
The shabby chic movement a few years ago was the same. DIY and craft enthusiasts scrabbled for chalk paint, rose transfers and sandpaper. Taking old second-hand furniture and turning it into something original was all the rage. The style has waned a bit in popularity, but customising old furniture is still a fairly popular hobby.
So, what’s the point?
Everybody wants bespoke design.
No one wants to feel that they have the same as everybody else. That would ostensibly mean that they are the same as everybody else, and in this age of individuality - nobody wants to be a face in the crowd. And most people don’t want their homes to be entirely conventional, either. Their home is an extension of themselves, and people usually have a very specific idea of how they would like it to look.
Despite its apparent popularity, there are downsides to the ‘Ikea hack’ trend. Firstly, despite the popularity, finding the time to actually commit oneself to a hack job is not always feasible. People are busy. Secondly, the quality of Ikea furniture does not suit everybody’s requirements. A lot of people would much prefer bespoke design furniture that has a superior quality of material and craft.
This is where mass customisation comes in. Where brand retailers are able to offer bespoke design furniture, for a small price premium that does not price them out of the market, without compromising the quality of the product, there is significant potential.
Whilst many furniture retailers may balk at the idea of a complete overhaul of their existing mass production processes, there is huge opportunity for new revenue streams to be achieved by offering mass customised versions of furniture and homewares lines. It is strongly anticipated that mass customisation will begin to replace the mass production model, and consumer trends towards uniqueness, originality, and authenticity bear this out.
Whilst, in decades past, consumers were happy to have standardised options to choose from, the profusion of choice created by the digital age has driven a more individualised culture, where people wish for their own bespoke designs over mass-produced products. This has been facilitated, in part, by the growth of online shopping, combined with the identity culture of social media. An ongoing yearning for authenticity - a psychological staple in troubled times - means that the desire for original products is set to be the future of manufacturing.
There is no denying that there are substantial implications across the board for this move towards mass customised production. Aside from the manufacturing overhaul which will be necessary in order to implement this new model, mass customisation will see an alteration in the job market.
Unskilled production line workers may find themselves in a position where they need further training in order to maintain their function within the new production model. Product designers, and programmers to initiate and maintain the 3D rendering functionality on the brand website will be in high demand. Creativity will be more sought after than ever, but this is equally a move that we can expect to see across the entire job market of the future.
The reason for this is that artificial intelligence is set to influence the job market in an unprecedented way. Any job that can be automated will soon be so. Of the jobs that remain the domain of human staff, the creative industries are most likely to be beyond the realm of computer algorithms. Essentially, by preempting this move towards bespoke design over and above the traditional mass production model, a brand will be among the first movers to snatch up the best creative talent before demand reaches fever pitch.
There may be some concerns for business owners about the initial changes required to meet the demands of future production. However, the future is extremely bright for consumers, creatives, and - after those initial costs are taken into account - for business owners themselves. Brands and businesses will undoubtedly see a strong surge in profits as bespoke design in furnishings, fashion, jewellery, footwear, and other consumer products overtakes the mass production model.
We can expect a future where creativity and originality gives birth to a more diverse aesthetic culture. Freedom of expression, a more dynamic visual landscape, and an open door to a new, unique vision of the world is ahead. Brands should welcome these changes with open arms.