The future of brand identity in an increasingly customizable world

Jack Blog

June 17th, 2014 By Jack Morton


This past week, I had the privilege of checking out the “Innovation Program” at Northside Festival in NYC– soaking up the goodness of the unofficial “SXSW of Brooklyn.”

One of my favorite panel conversations from the program centered around the future of brand identity in an increasingly customizable world. The speakers, all entrepreneurs from their respective 3D-printing and scanning companies, discussed the idea that creativity is inherently iterative, so the disruption that 3D printing has introduced is the question of “who owns the design?”  (e.g. Ikea designers may have originated a desk’s design, but if you scan it and print it in a different material elsewhere, who does that intellectual property belong to?) …Sadly no answer was given, but here are the two ways of thinking about it:

The old school view looks at this problem and says, the brand always owns the design. There’s no way the Burberrys of the world would ever let customers change the colors or stripe width of their iconic plaid print.

New school says: brands that don’t move from dictator to curator and invite greater levels of participation are going to become extinct, the same way that a coffee shop that fails to provide you with soy milk or splenda won’t survive. Customization is a current expectation that most consumers don’t even realize that they use and use often.

What are other implications of the scaling, 3D printed economy and maker movement?

1) Spare parts on demand: You can expect to see spare parts on demand. Building a playground from ToysRus, but there’s a missing part? No problem- just go on their website and print out the missing part (or use the corner store’s printer). Save yourself the hassle.

2) Trading instant gratification for identity: Startups in the space are banking on the fact that you rather have their perfectly customized i-phone case delivered in 5 days rather than Amazon’s generic option delivered the next day.

What do you think? Is it Ikea /Burberry/{insert brand here}’s best interest to let you hack and adapt their designs? How far should they let it go?