Fit for purpose and personalized products

An interesting aspect of design in relation to personal fabrication and customized design is fit for purpose. How do you determine a product is good enough for its intended purpose? And who is responsible that a product you buy is fit for the purpose you intended?

With fit to purpose, I mean that a design properly supports the intended function it was designed for. For example, a necklace should not break while wearing it, or a coffee cup should not break in the dishwasher. Manufacturing companies spent a lot of time and effort to test their products before they are manufactured and shipped to their customers. For them, it is risk mitigation to avoid returns and warranty issues down the line. No mass-producing manufacturer wants to risk losing large volume batches of products.

With personal fabrication and online creation, the relationship between designer, manufacturer and the customer is changing. Customers can make or manipulate their own designs and choose the materials they want to use for the fabrication of their product. But they are no experts. How do you make sure that their designs are fit for purpose? And how about designs made and sold by hobbyists or semi-professionals? Who is responsible when there is a problem?

When personal fabrication becomes more commonplace than product liability issues like fit for purpose can become a problem, as well. Liabilities are often shared in the supply chain, but that only makes sense when the liabilities are known. With personalized fabrication and customized design, the liabilities are unknown. How are we going to handle that?

A lot of product categories have mandatory regulations applied to them for instance children’s toys. But when you think about personal fabrication or customization, it is impossible to comply with those regulations when you do not control the design. Do these regulations need to be adapted?

I think there are lots of questions still to be answered in the areas of product liability, product regulations and fit for purpose in general. It is one of those essential preconditions to be tackled for personal fabrication and customized production to grow. There has not been a lot of traction around these topics yet, and I hope — no, expect — that will change soon. It is the reason for me to bring it up (again).