Adaptable Production by Design

‘Adaptable Production by Design’ presents an alternative design process and business plan for industrial design.

Industrial production is very good at economies of scale and the mass production of the same units. But with entrenched supply and distribution chains as well large financial obligations based on long-term financial projections it is very bad at adapting and altering production.

Artisanal production is very good at one-off and unique pieces. However an artisan’s huge investment in a specific skill means client input is limited to changes within a material and skill-set and that prices are prohibitive.

Somewhere in-between, what the Design studio and its middle-weight scale of production does better than anyone else are small-series (limited-editions) of repeatable productions which are extremely adaptable and open to client-input.

For ‘Adaptable Production by Design’ I first designed the business model, taking the studio-production model further by incorporating User-controlled price discrimination through production adaptability and an open-design participatory production strategy.

The purpose of price discrimination is generally to capture the market’s consumer surplus. This surplus arises because, in a market with a single clearing price, some customers (the very low price elasticity segment) would have been prepared to pay more than the single market price. Price discrimination transfers some of this surplus from the consumer to the producer/marketer.


Demand is made up of people looking for a generic product, as well as, people willing to pay more for a specific or unique product. While industrially produced products cater to elastic generic demand and artisanal production cater to inelastic specific demand, they both essentially have a fixed clearing price which means some consumers will get lost in the gap between the two classes of product. Adaptable production builds user-controlled price discrimination into the product’s supply. This means that participatory production captures the consumers lost in the gap, by effectively allowing them to determine their own price by selecting materials and finishes that meet their own tastes and budgets.


I designed this economic model into a process where a basic module or ‘industrial blank’ can be mass-produced and then adapted by adding or removing appendages made of diverse materials. This dramatically changes not only the function, aesthetic, and structure of the final product, but also diversifies its market and insulates the monetary value of pre-production stock against fluctuations in end-product demand. For example if demand in lamps drops, the price of the module is insulated by demands for its other variations for example as planters or sinks.

This also means that distributors and end-point consumers enjoy the added value of participatory production. This means that the same basic module can be ordered by diverse distributors in completely different industries and adapted for them to serve different functions as well as reflect their unique aesthetic identity. While working with individual consumers on a 1-1 basis, the demand for completely unique and bespoke pieces can easily be fulfilled for much lower costs.

Focusing on the design of the ceramic module itself; ‘Form Follows Function’ but functional forms become decorative redundancies when the module is adapted for other functions. I wanted a visually incomplete form, so that there was an intuitive need for appendages. I was aware I was not designing a finished product, rather I was designing a design process for a non-designer. So the design of the appendage attachment forms forces the appendages to follow both the basic aesthetic ‘rule of 3’ and as well as basic organic symmetry. That way it is almost impossible for a client to come up with something that is not aesthetically harmonious. The appendages themselves and so the function of the final product, are for the client to decide: material, height, style – everything they want is possible.


I was aware I was not designing a finished product, rather I was designing a design process for a non-designer.

I am currently designing the participatory production ‘workshop’ process. This is taking the form of designing workshop materials and video presentations as well as an ‘Adaptable Production by Design’ Kit, which includes material samples, as well as a 3D printed scale prototype and 6 perspex sheet profiles that can be drawn on with markers to find new profile forms. The end result will be a series of collections developed by different collaborations to expose the multiplicity of style possibilities as well as test the participatory production process. 

I will make an open call, and approach friends and other studios, to set the collaborations in motion once the set is complete. Aiming for around 6 collections of 5-6 pieces.


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