Dutch Design Week 2012


PhD Research

I research and advise on commercial and practice based responses to on-demand manufacture. I’ve spent quite a few years looking at servitisation of manufacture and related issues. In doing so I have been researching how consumers interact with on-demand production services and how suppliers both design and implement these services. I have examined community based fab labs, commercial service bureaus, designer/manufacturer models and marketplaces, and more recently been thinking about a B2C approach in the toy and games industry and how traditional retailers might integrate on-demand.

To do this I’ve been thinking about three macro level interactions between commerce, manufacturing and design. Throughout history we observe relationships, between commerce, manufacturing and design. Considering for example the impact that industrialisation had on the disposable income and leisure time for the average worker, the necessity of industrialists to ensure demand for mass produced goods. As such we noticed relationships to design roles in marketing and advertising; retail and commerce through department stores, mail order catalogues and fairs.

This was the time of scientific management where inventory theory influenced production management, where meeting customer demand was a challenge in relatively unlimited markets. Where inventory production at economies of scale was the end goal. In more recent times we’ve observed shifts away from mass production, fast moving product trends and market competition render excess inventory and over-stock as costly and disadvantageous. As Tsigkas (2013) indicates this constitutes a shift from ‘everything production can produce is sold’ to – ‘only what can be sold is produced’.

Remembering (albeit disputed) Fordian statements ‘anything so long as it’s black’ – we have since seen increasing focus since on product and service differentiation – flexible specialisation and mass customisation, a recent past that refuses to die. Which in the design and related creative industries manifests as increasing emphasis on product differentiation, co-design, value co-creation and prosumerism. Often facilitating consumer engagement through digitisation and convergence of design, communication and manufacturing tools in a web 2/3.0-ian trend but also through increasing knowledge share, deconstruction of profession, social product design, crowd sourcing & funding strategies.

So in all of this my PhD considers the future relationships between on-demand manufacturing, commerce and design. In doing so it addresses three actors, customer, designer and manufacturer and reveals how these boundaries are intersecting. It examines new business and revenue models as well as considering how on-demand impacts related creative industries such as the games industry.


Voss. G and Carolan. N, 2012. User-led design in the urban/domestic environment. Journal of Urban Technology. (In press)

Carolan, N. & Cruickshank, L. (2010) Understanding Design Interventions in Democratising Innovation: a Toolkit Approach. 

Carolan, N. (2010) ‘Product Pirates – Intellectual property implications of post industrial manufacture’ (Conference Paper) FISCAR

Cruickshank, L. Carolan, N. (2010) ‘New User-Led Design Processes for Digital Fabrication’ (Conference Paper) FISCAR


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