We all know that history repeats itself over and over again, despite any of the warnings we’re given in school to not forget past lessons. The latest example is headphones. When I was a kid in the 70s, a lot of headphones were big and bulky. Then when the iPod precursor, the Sony Walkman, exploded the portable music industry, small footprint earphones dominated, followed by the even smaller footprinted earbuds made famous in iPod ads.
As it turns out, we are now full circle and the hot way to listen to your digital beats is once again through the big sized phones known as “cans.” All hip celebrities and pro athletes are now seen isolating themselves while in public from fans and papparazzi with these massive head mounted speakers. I’m sure these things appear on the xmas wish lists of many a teen that you know.
One of today’s giant headphone makers, Fanny Wang, is now offering their hearing impairment devices in custom color configurations. When it comes to mass customization, custom coloring is the dominant method offered by most who allow a customization option. This is the customization path of least resistance and most favorable economics, so as the digital world continues to enable this service, one could predict more and more mainstream products to start offering custom color.
This is probably not a good thing. Professional product designers are typically trained in selecting good taste in color selection and balancing, with the more advanced also trained in color psychology and chromatics so that the end result is pleasing to the eye, and maybe also soothing or calming. If left entirely to the consumer, violent clashes of light waves could start proliferating in a visual explosion of Cosby sweater madness.
We live in an era where the Internet and social media is heavily pushing the democratization of everything, giving everyone input and influence into anything. While overall this is a positive step and will likely mature into something better than the chaos we face today, the current primordial soup of mass customization will probably make you want to avert your eyes for a while. Innovation like this is similar to government–that while we gravitate towards the ideals of democracy, we know the truth is that benevolent dictatorship can produce higher quality.