Mass Personalization & Authenticity

Especially for you.

Do you ever see people lining up for an autographed book/C.D./whatever and wonder what compels us to seek proof of the artists hand on what is otherwise a mass produced item. Is it odd that we are not satisfied that the author has written the book, we then want a level of authenticity and intimacy with the person behind the object.

How meaningful is it when the ‘personalization’ of the signature is also an act of mass production as shown in these images by Jan Chipchase? Is the value of the signed object degraded or is it equal to a signature the artist would inscribe for a close friend or colleague, not part of a marketing tour?

I would like to know what Ponoko users thoughts are on personalization, do you include a personal note or signature to any products you sell on the Ponoko website? What is the importance of the immediacy of personal interaction, albeit computer mediated?

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I think authenticity is bound up with (or maybe trumped by) notions of “the story you will tell about the thing”. “oh yes, It’s signed by the author – I met him at the signing” etc.

Some famous author basically dooming themselves to what’s essentially a factory job – signing 100,000 books, may not have that whole “tell your friends it’s one of a kind” thing going, but in some ways it does make for a better story.

On the one hand.

On the other hand, back when I was a rock-star etc, I do remember being a bit taken aback when this kid told me that the reason he wanted the record we gave him signed, is because he could sell it for 20 quid more. A signature is also a currency of sorts, in certain circles.

Personally I think that mass-produceability confers more credibility than one-off… which to me has this whole woolly-wearing, arts-and-craftsy, macrame-vibe from the 70s thing going on. I like refined and clinical. Mass production is a vote of confidence. A stamp of authenticity.

Did you know that back in the days before the printing press, originality lacked credibility so authors would often “make up” older sources that they pretended to quote? One of the reasons why some of the old magical grimoires are quite hard to source.

Some interesting points Nick..

I am not really a fan of ‘macramé level’ craft either with amateurish realization of unsophisticated designs, but mass produced objects often imply quality and refinement only at the top end.

A bespoke cabinet constructed from solid timber by a lone craftsman versus an ikea cabinet designed in sweden, produced in india and assembled by, average joe is not a vote of confidence,

or as Atticus Pomponius said in 112 BC “the hand of the craftsman maketh the cabinet sure, but assmebleth ikea and it doth falleth for sure.”

p.s. I do make up sources to quote on occasion to add authenticity…


ha ha! Intersting topic.
By coincidence, today I was thinking about using some sort of makers mark for my pieces… gives a personal sort of feel…
as for crafty macrame vibe… not that I’m into macrame myself, but surely, in whatever medium or size of production, doesn’t it all come down to the actual design of the ‘thing’ There is brilliant & dire found in both ‘craft’ and mass production. The ‘bespoke cabinet constructed from solid timber by a lone craftsman’ might indeed look like a piece of s… In fact I’ve seen many an item that is supposed to be good just because it’s handmade. I’d prefer a Picasso print to an amateurish orignal…of course I wouldn’t say no to an original Picasso, but in the real world….
I don’t care how many were made or who made it, but if it looks good & I can afford it, it’s fine by me.
As for Ikea – if you’re generally broke like I am, it’s better than most places…

Yeah, I admit to an Ikea kitchen but teamed with a 1920’s willow dining table.
when I tell the “story” of the house I say the Ikea Kitchen is cheap and functional but the table was salvaged from a farmers barn where he had a disassembled 2 stroke engine and you can still see the marks from where he hammered out some bearings etc etc..
The legs of the table are shaky, the ikea kitchen solid. I may be contradicting myself but authenticity or narrative sometimes trumps function or quality.. Annie, the makers mark or brand is interesting.. I would love to know your thoughts on the process and what you choose to go with..
thanks for your input

I’d love to engrave a small insignia on the reverse, but I guess I’d have to do that myself…
I guess that you can’t engrave on both sides – or maybe you can???

I do know of a girl who has laser her work ‘signed’ mechanically with a fine etched line.

what material are you using?
there are these weird electric branding tolls available, harks back to the origin of ‘the brand’ ….

Another great post Duann. I’m getting jealous.

I think a note of personalization is going to be really important. Personal communication of a thank you, or a background story, or whatever makes someone especially happy with their purchase and fond of whomever they purchased it from.

That tactic has been replicated in mass-production for ever. (like the example you cited in the post) So I think reinvention needs to happen around personalization, real personalization. I think the requirements for this are TIME and ORIGINALITY. The mass-produced “thank you for purchasing this product, here is our story” notes that come with some purchases don’t take up anyone’s time to make and the message is the same to everyone.

Rapid/on-demand manufacturing allows for a tailored message for every single buyer. If someone took the time, and it could be a lot of time, to really personalize their designs for every buyer, they would have some very loyal customers, but probably at the sacrifice of very many. Quality not quantity.

And on the ‘crafty’ look of handmade objects. What’s funny is that lots of things that look like that, aren’t even handmade. Take Anthropologie. Everything in that store is so cute and crafty and original looking. Being in a store makes you feel like you’re at the best Euro flea market ever. And what’s ironic about what I just said about handmade objects being mass-produced, lots of mass-produced objects ARE actually handmade. By factory workers overseas.

Every single screen print on the dog t-shirts I designer for Target is done by HAND. It’s mind blowing really. Thousands and thousands of them all done by hand in China. And did you know that it is impossible for a machine to make a basket? Every single basket you see, even $4 ones at WalMart or Micheals, was made by hand. These are handmade goods that we consider mass-produced because no one is telling the story of where they came from. Because the crafts people making them are not allowed to personalize them.

great point Kristen,

Hands in the far east do not count for ‘hand’ made..

But there was the case of the ZARA swastika handbag
when the ‘factory’ in India took liberties with the decoration and included a swastika which prior to nazi use is a hindu religious symbol.
Did not go down so well in the UK..

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