Designing mass customization: A product configurator for a startup company

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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In an uncertain environment where resources are scarce, how could an online mass customization service be designed and implemented to befit the requirements of a startup company? Mass customization is increasingly utilized as a competitive production strategy by companies to differentiate themselves on increasingly fragmented markets. Mass customization is defined as the mass production of individually customized products and services. As a production process mass customization has rather unorthodox requirements. Allowance of customer interaction with the different levels of the production flow causes completely different types of managerial needs than a typical mass production process. In other words mass customization can be a risky, expensive, and demanding process. For this reason it is mostly utilized by medium- and large-sized companies. A startup company implementing mass customization faces all the same challenges, but might additionally have to deal with continuous uncertainties and extreme resource restrictions. In this thesis it was discovered that mass customization is a valid strategy for small startup companies. The key is to be able to focus and limit the process to the most important customizable elements. This Master thesis describes the design process of an online mass customization service for the startup company Catchbox. The theoretical part of the thesis reviews literature that is relevant to the requirements for implementing a mass customization process as well as the design principles of the online mass customization service. The amount of literature addressing mass customization in startup companies was found to be limited. To this end, general mass customization processes were adapted for use on the thesis. Theoretical frameworks were discovered however, which point out that mass customization can be implemented on different levels dependent on the use case and the size of the company. The empirical part of this thesis is composed of several practical studies that focus on the implementation of the mass customization service in detail. The goal of these studies is to validate the theoretical results by testing them in practice. The empirical studies show that the customization possibilities should be limited to a handful of options that make the experience feel creative for the customer while not inferring unnecessarily in production and logistic costs. Too many features will complicate the process and confuse the customer. Too few features will not necessarily satisfy the customer’s creative needs. The customization process should be an easy, simple, fairly short, and highly visual experience. The customization experience has to be interactive and immersive as well, so that the user gets constant feedback from their actions and achieves a better working flow. Based on this analysis, the outcome of the thesis is a detailed visual prototype of a mass customization service for Catchbox. All of the key design decisions made on the prototype are based on the knowledge gained from the theoretical and empirical parts of this thesis. The prototype is an illustrative representation of the service with focus on the service features and the process flow.
McGrory, Peter
Thesis advisor
Person, Oscar
mass customization, startup, product configurator, service design
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