Damage by Design to Make It Mine

Among our favorite topics is mass customization, the growing trend of shoppers personalizing products online before purchase and before they’re manufactured. Admittedly we have a self-interest in the trend, evident in our gBuilder demo.

A distant cousin to mass customization recently caught our eye. It’s too amorphous to warrant trend status. We’ve named it post-purchase offline customization, or PPOC, a term absent from Google until we post this blog item.

The most intriguing PPOC examples require in the final stage of design not sophisticated technology but intentional infliction of damage. Sometimes the damage is strategic, sometimes random. Depending on results buyers are left with a product prized for its uniquely personal aesthetic appeal or, less likely, personalized buyer’s remorse.

Especially piquing our interest is a concrete-sheathed hanging lamp. The designer, Romanian architect Dragos Motica, empowers the buyer to create art. In the package is a rock for chipping holes in the concrete to make a one-of-a-kind look, not just of the lamp’s exterior but the pattern of emitted light.

Motica poses philosophical questions that hover far above the lamp:

“When is an object designed? When is an object precious, particular? What is broken and what is new? What means the result of a mechanical intervention (more or less violent) on an object? What is an vulgarized object?”

In apparel the best known and oldest example of PPOC are jeans known as “extreme destroy.” For the unfamiliar, pictures explain better than words. DIYers made the random look so popular that opportunistic companies stepped in and made faded, tattered jeans a hot, unabating fashion trend.

We’re not sure where to classify jeans made from denim that lions, tigers and bears at a Japanese zoo claw, chew, and otherwise distress. The animals “play” with denim-wrapped objects at the behest of Zoo Jeans, a brand started by volunteers seeking to finance the zoo’s revitalization.

And then there’s the Edward Scissorhands of apparel, Adam Saaks, who has achieved celebrity status for his live-performance prowess at rapidly cutting artistic slits and other designs in t-shirts, swimsuits, and other garments while the buyers wear them. Now Saaks is selling his slashed works online, and he’s inspired some fans to create DIY videos.

Whether customized before or after purchase, online or offline, or with or without intentional damage, such products tap deeply into what people desire: owning things not as possessions but as reflections of themselves–or who they want to be.