Mass customization is the concept where manufactured goods may be customized by the consumer. These goods may have individualized modifications as minor as a different coloring on a lunchbox or as transformative as a new gear system in a bicycle. In modern manufacturing processes, these customizations are normally generated by the customer using a web interface application. These customizations are then sent to the manufacturer to be enacted on existing stock.
As individualized modification of a product requires special attention to be paid to the product to configure it to the customer requirements provided. Because of this, mass customization results in added overhead costs to produce the same given product. It is therefore necessary to only utilize mass customization in applications where the most preferential cost/benefit ratio may be achieved.
Whenever considering the topic of mass customization, it is necessary to determine the appropriate cost/benefit breakpoint between the ability of a customer to add additional features and the effort required on behalf of the manufacturer to implement these features. This is a difficult prospect without understanding the causal relationship between mass-customized products and customer satisfaction. Without a clear reason behind why mass-customized products result in improved sales, it became necessary to conduct a study to find out what motivates individuals to customize their products.
Franke et. al. hypothesized that mass-customized products carry intrinsic value greater than the actual utilitarian value of the product to a customer that designed it. This extra value can be quantified and monetized. In order to determine the cause of this added intrinsic value, Franke et. al. conducted a series of studies at their home university.
This study resulted in several possible explanations being tested. In order to ascertain the psychological drivers behind decisions, business students were selected for a series of studies using either t-shirts, cellphone cases, skis, or gift cards as motivation to participate. A randomized bidding system was used to quantify the true value of the designed product to the individual that had participated in the study. The bidding system was arranged in such a way as to minimize the chance of an apathetic consumer skewing the results. Additionally, a raffle was used in order to normalize certain emotional factors that the authors considered relevant.
The first round of experiments focused on ownership as the motivating factor behind mass customization. For this experiment, subjects were asked to design one of a set of objects. These objects had varying levels of customization. In general, the more highly customized artifacts resulted in greater levels of satisfaction.
As test subjects spent more time designing the customizations for the product, they tended to value the product more heavily. This was generally found to be the result of pride in the finished product. As design freedom increased, pride in the result similarly increased.
In order to isolate the feeling of accomplishment from other motivations, a second experiment was conducted. This experiment saw test subjects bid on either commercial-off-the-shelf t-shirts or identical t-shirts that they designed using mass customization software. To accomplish this, subjects were given a design to reproduce using the software and then asked to bid on the finished product. This was compared to the bids received for the commercial-off-the-shelf product.
As a control group, a third group was asked to design the initial t-shirt and then bid on a different, similar t-shirt. This was in an attempt to normalize the mood-altering impact of designing t-shirts on the test subjects. This experiment found that the only significant value increase was found in the group that bid on t-shirts that they had personally designed even if the design was not their own.
A third experiment was conducted to quantify the impact of creating one’s own design on the overall value given to a product. One group of subjects was instructed to design the graphics for a set of skis. The control group was given a selection of vendor-supplied graphics to bid on. To eliminate technical questions, only the graphics were being bid on rather than the full ski set. As expected, the group that designed their own skis was willing to bid much higher than the control group which demonstrates that mass customization carries substantial intrinsic value.
At the conclusion of the third experiment, a fourth experiment was conducted. This experiment attempted to look at the impact of product quality on the overall impact of mass customization. This was performed using four total groups. Two groups were asked to reproduce a design and two groups were asked to bid on off-the-shelf designs. Each group was also split based on an attractive design and an unattractive design. Both groups performing their own design work indicated a stronger intrinsic value placed on their designs when compared to the control group.
These experiments found that mass customization is a valuable tool for designers to use to improve the value of their products. The simple act of customization tends to improve overall value regardless of the actual freedom offered through the mass customization interface. However, the greatest overall value increase can be seen through a robust customization process that allows maximum user freedom.
Overall, these experiments were conducted using a high degree of error correction. The experiments were both rigorous and self-correcting as evidenced by the refusal of the authors to consider design reproductions that failed to accurately reproduce the design in their results. With this information, design engineers may produce more valuable solutions by allowing consumers to customize the products in question.
 Franke, Nikolaus, Martin Schreier, and Ulrike Kaiser. "The “I designed it myself” effect in mass customization." Management Science 56.1 (2010): 125-140.