Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


MilkOrSugar spreads the word on product customization

A new ‘customization portal’, MilkOrSugar has recently been launched by ILUMY, an Amsterdam based agency of designers and entrepreneurs.

The MilkOrSugar website

The MilkOrSugar website

At MilkOrSugar, visitors can check pricing, shipping destinations, payment options and the number of basic models for each vendor. The site only publishes products that can actually be completely ordered, paid and shipped online. So car or kitchen configurators are, for now, excluded. Anyone can suggest a site for inclusion in MilkOrSugar.

Via the links on the MilkOrSugar website, visitors can create customized version of a huge variety of products, including a sleeping bag, Samurai sword, bicycle, dress, drums, shoes, skate board, Scrabble board, watch, machine parts, perfume, lingerie, wallpaper or Lego model.

The site also contains reviews of a build to order products, some of which you might not expect: fire extinguisher, guitar, radio controlled car, protein shakes, robot, canoe, with many more products in progress. The site will publish new vendor reviews daily.

In a press release, Stefan Hoevenaar of MilkOrSugar said: “We researched perhaps all websites that offer customized physical products. In many categories, affordable quality products can now be customized, ordered and shipped to your home. The range of things that can be customized is widening rapidly. New manufacturers appear almost every day.”

In some categories, multiple vendors are competing, with most vendors offering customized bags, shoes, computers, candy, dresses and books. Most vendors ship worldwide.

Often, customization is going beyond a print on the outside or choosing a color. Hoevenaar continued: “This is not just some paint on the outside. It’s about assembling or creating your own shapes, about choosing sizes and materials, creating textures and blends. The artisanship of some manufacturers enables their buyer to really become a designer. The concept of Mass Customization, coined in 1987 and promoted by Joseph Pine in 1992, is now becoming reality.”

I discussed MilkOrSugar further with Stefan Hoevenaar, noting that it appears to be more consumer-focused than the other online database of product customization, the Configurator Database. Stefan noted: “We also had a look at the Configurator Database and it seems mostly aimed at researchers. We decided to only include sites that offer customization with direct ordering, incl. payment – as a kind of proof of the pudding.”

“We’re about to include some non-direct-order products like cars, at least for their often exciting customization experience. However, we’ll clearly indicate if payment and home delivery is possible.”

All the links on MilkOrSugar go directly to the websites of the companies concerned – they are not affiliate links. (Affiliate links are advertisements that provides a commission to the website owner whenever a user clicks on a link and subsequently makes a purchase.)

MilkOrSugar is currently maintained by Stefan and his colleagues Tako, Sybren, David, Ritchard, Myrte, Bramantya, Alexander and Melissa, who are a blend of ILUMY and MilkOrSugar staff. It is hoped that it will soon be 100% maintained by MilkOrSugar personnel.

It takes more time and effort than you might think to find and evaluate websites offering product customization, to determine if they are suitable for inclusion in a customization portal. I know this from personal experience, as I made an effort to set up such a portal a few years ago as part of this site, but had to discontinue the project as I could not give it the time that was required.

Stefan and his colleagues deserve praise for developing a very comprehensive and well-presented site that will help to spread the idea of customized products to a wider audience.

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