Design. It’s a master plan, a minute pattern. The creation of an object or system. It’s an idea that embodies the most human of instincts to make the world work better: our best tool. But design is also a phenomenon of the senses — of taste, texture, optics, acoustics, scent, shape and fit — that lets the world become more habitable and personalized.
To create anything in the built world, first we find or invent an essential form; then we reassess and reinvent it. The wheel. The page. The shirtwaist or shoe. The molding of any object to fit the body. So, from bicycle to car, paper to screen, clog to sneaker, artisan to assembly line, we are good at recognizing and reshaping the archetypes that work for us with persistence, over continuums of time.
But inevitably, each time ... we want an upgrade. A little more of this, a little less of that. A different color. A new material or special size. We want to choose. We crave the unique over the generic and we use design to signify ourselves.
We participate to make it our own.
Carol Ann Peacock
For centuries, the act of refining an item before it’s fabricated has been seen as a mark of privilege, the exclusivity of the tailor-made. The significance of the bespoke suit, the commissioned jewel, even the made-to-order meal or craft-blended coffee, preserves the high value of what is seen as custom.
The origins of the custom lie in the artisan age and its resurgence today in maker movements, where goods are created in a highly crafted way for the distinction, quality and status that their workmanship and design confer on the owner. It’s about hand-selected ingredients, slower cultivation and richer stories to share. This is the anti-assembly line, and therefore these goods tend to be time-consuming, often costly, quite singular and necessarily skilled in their composition. The world of the custom is desirable and aspirational because it’s unique, in some artistic fashion.
In fact, part of the early meaning of the word comes from the Old French for costume — and there is a built-in fashion to custom items. More so, this made the original customer more a patron and less a buyer or consumer.
Paul Roden & Valerie Lueth
In the rising era of home and product design, this phenomenon has been embodied in the one-to-one relationship between a client and an architect or designer.
These specialists are charged with creating a highly personalized custom result out of many one-of-a-kind elements. So, the custom in this sense has become not only the domain of a single object, but also the sum of individual parts, in the composition of a unique setting or complete environment.
For the even more collective domain of a workplace, how has that value been transferred? How do we apply the qualities of customization that promote personal expression to a much larger group of people or a scalable set of products? What do designers need, to enliven an impersonal office … and to overcome the commonality of its prevailing furnishings?
The original, special-made object or environment represents the first wave of customization. The patron, or the client, is the recipient of the desired outcome. The focus is on the artist — the designer, the architect, the studio — who creates something for us or about us, not really by or with us. We’re the captivated audience. The opportunity cost for this activity is high; our participation is low.
“The origins of the custom lie in the artisan age, where goods are created in a highly crafted way for the distinction, quality and status that their workmanship and design confer on the owner.”
The rise of the consumer economy has brought better design choices to a wider populace. Manufacturing has standardized quality, but it’s lowered the uniqueness of the individual product. A smart phone is a gorgeous piece of industrial design; even the most utilitarian denim is more flattering than ever. But my purchase is going to be exactly the same as yours. Different brands of phone or jeans certainly get us partway to more variety, but where is the customization in commodity?
In the modern era of stock goods, we change things after they’re made. This accessorizing is a potent form of self-expression. The phone is enrobed in our choice of case, with our selected imagery on the touch screen and custom sounds that we can choose for our ringtones. Patches go on the pair of jeans or jacket; fabric is distressed, darkened or lightened. We put our imprint on our possessions. Call it the mass monogram.
“In the modern era of stock goods, we change things after they’re made. We put our imprint on our possessions.”
Personalization is the second wave of customization. Like the bespoke design, this leads to a mostly solo result: to make it mine, in that hard-wired human desire to ornament, illustrate, differentiate. But personalization has a growing sense of involvement in it, a motivation for the consumer to start becoming part of the design process. The trending influences of applied personal style even drive companies to design and redesign products with more of the custom ingredients and addons that people want. The choices we make here are therefore incredibly meaningful, even though they may be a surface treatment and are most often decorative.
In the wider culture, this type of personalization has engendered the freedom to individually mix and remix aspects of virtually all the indispensable goods we carry around with us. In the workplace, it might mean the select combination of standard finishes and formats to make a diverse mix of settings, out of the same classic chairs, tables and storage pieces that would be used a different way in another office.
This mixology is the heart of how we can take advantage of the same items and menu of choices, and then combine them in our own way. The question is how customization can go much further in fulfilling that drive for personalization and deeper meaning — without losing the efficiency and convenience of ready-made choices.
There’s an emerging third wave, where much of the new customization is now being imagined: the application of unique design choices during the manufacturing of our own product. This is the deeper act of participating in the design process, to customize an existing form. It’s the artifact that is made with us.
Design as a discipline perennially allows us to customize by adjusting a basic form with the tools of color, pattern, material, feature, size and shape. Paint the same room several different shades and it will communicate a new personality each time. Upholster one sofa in fabric or leather; change the color or gauge of the stitching. Every option is built on the same frame, yet the outcomes are very personal and much more crafted in feeling than the stock model.
“The era of co-created artifacts now enables us to curate nearly every aspect of our experience, often with just a few easy clicks on a screen. It’s formidable, and a new form of empowerment.”
What’s the difference, then, from the bespoke? Time is one factor. Where the bespoke is made from scratch, this type of customization begins with a pre-set framework or platform. The manufacturing may be partially automated so that the item is produced faster, making the customized product more attainable, without sacrificing personalization.
Another factor is technology. Modern engineering has created incredible advances in materials and machineenabled design. And digital tools now give us personal authorship over aesthetic choices, to an extent that has permanently collapsed the space between the product and the consumer, and what can be customized. The era of co-created artifacts now enables us to curate nearly every aspect of our experience — clothes, cars, vacations, social connections — often with just a few easy clicks on a screen. It’s formidable, and a new form of empowerment.
What’s more, we’ve been conditioned to expect a lightning-quick response time, creative control, and ultimately, a more meaningful experience. The entry cost to such transactions is lower than it’s ever been, while the emotional investment is higher. That makes participation a truly inclusive prospect in design, and the area where we can keep moving the needle toward more sophisticated customization.
The next opportunity is to migrate that empowerment, its imagination, ease and speed, to the world of work. Coalesse welcomes this evolving wave of participation in our products, ranging from small batches to huge production runs. We want to engage the design community as participants in a creatively responsive experience, from end-to-end. Now more than ever, we can help you make your mark.
As both a San Francisco-based design studio and a global furniture manufacturer, we are naturally attentive to how detail and craft can determine the individuality of a product. And where customization is desired we can adapt our products, to enable more opportunities for uniqueness and personal expression.
We’ve organized customization into six primary categories of design that we affect: color & pattern, material & features, and size & shape. And from our very beginnings, we’ve maintained a dedicated, in-house Concierge service, where a seasoned group of experts guides the custom changes in these categories that a designer would like to make. These specialists stay with a project through every phase — from inquiry to sample to ordering to production.
“The emerging technological tools of modern customization now put designers at the helm earlier in this collaborative process — to derive your product on the foundations of ours.”
Customization for us isn’t just inviting change; it’s offering the personal assistance to take on all of the questions and answers, while anticipating what problems to solve, so that you don’t have to. We see this role as making our product into yours, with support that’s dedicated to delivering convenience. It’s our part of participation, intended to save you time, reduce your stress and let you focus on what you do best: design.
The emerging technological tools of modern customization can now put designers at the helm earlier in this collaborative process — to derive your product on the foundations of ours. If anything is possible, now is the time where more of anything is probable in the making of a design. We’ve anticipated this evolution with the development of resources, from 2D and 3D modeling at our studio, to small-batch production capabilities, to the genesis of web apps that deepen the interaction with virtually infinite options of color and pattern for our products.
But as with so much technology, digital assistance on its own can miss the mark of human experience: how the stretch in a certain fabric adapts to the contours of upholstery; where to source a special material for a tabletop; a voice on the other end of the line who assures that the delivery will happen on time. For the customized piece of furniture, personal assistance is as enlightening as technology is empowering.
It’s when these two capabilities come together that the deeper engagement of participation takes hold.
The LessThanFive Chair explores an innovative material, carbon fiber, to mold extremely lightweight furniture with a highly tailored level of detail. Carbon fiber has been extensively utilized for its incomparable strength-to-weight ratio across the automotive and sporting goods industries, but it is still relatively uncommon in the furniture marketplace.
When we launched LessThanFive, we were intrigued by carbon fiber’s potential for customization. The material’s surface is highly receptive to paint finishes of any color as well as integrated, perfectly registered appliqués of the most intricate patterns. Consumers were already customizing boutique bikes online in this fashion, adapting a stock frame with several easy clicks of color and pattern to make it their own. Inspired by such capabilities, the Coalesse Design Group sought to capture the convenience of a simple consumer tool for personalizing our LessThanFive Chair.
“The LessThanFive and MoreThanFive series
are models for the age of Participation.”
We proceeded to develop our own customizer in the form of an openly accessible web app, which allows anyone to participate at this deeper level of individualized design. Now, the LessThanFive app invites you to import literally any color or color combination, and configure any pattern, onto the chair. Yet unlike other configurator apps, every custom order is then managed by our responsive Concierge team as a seamless part of the product offering, to ensure that you have a rewarding experience as your chairs are manufactured.
Expanding on this direction, our companion MoreThanFive Table opens up new opportunities to create a bespoke statement. Carbon fiber table frames support clear glass tops available in three shapes and sizes, and both materials can be specified for applications of any custom color and pattern. With color & pattern and shape & size both free to be mixed in countless ways, this latest wave of multifaceted customization empowers you to participate and make a more powerful mark.
LessThanFive Chair/MoreThanFive Table
Created For You
Monogrammed By You
Made With You
Coalesse + You
It’s a new era
Learn how Coalesse is
empowering more personal