Designers Are Embracing Personalization, But It Should Be Used With Care

March 7, 2018, 3:11 AM UTC
Fortune Brainstorm Design 2018
014 Fortune Brainstorm Design 2018 Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 Singapore 09:35 - 09:55 CURATING FOR CURIOSITY: DESIGNERS, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE MUSEUM OF ME From our news feeds and calendars to our beauty products and our fashion, everything in our lives is being personalized and optimized. As predictive technology expands and artificial intelligence permeates every day-to-day task, the demand for customized products and services increases—but at what cost? How can designers save us from entrapment in a hall of mirrors, where we are never surprised, never challenged, never prodded to progress or change our minds? Tucker Fort, Partner, Smart Design Interviewer: Matt Vella, Executive Editor, Time, and Co-chair, Brainstorm Design Photograph by Stefen Chow/Fortune
Stefen Chow/Fortune

It’s all about you – sort of. In the coming years, the trend towards personalization will create huge opportunities in many industries, according to Tucker Fort of New York’s Smart Design where he has developed innovative personalization tools for clients such as HP, OXO and Gatorade.

But companies also need to adopt the technique with care, he told the Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore.

“As a trend, personalization is growing and will start coming together in the next few years. On the business side, a lot of startups have a heavy personalized element to the services they are delivering, and you need that to have a competitive advantage,” Fort said.

Personalization differs from customization, he explained. Customization often takes place in the product creation stage and is more general and therefore static. It is customized and it is done. Personalization is ongoing, it is dynamic and organic.

Some companies have enjoyed past success by embracing customization, such as Nike, which introduced user-designed shoes as far back as 1999, and still offers such shoes for affordable prices.

Likewise, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute developed Gx, a customized hydration platform for athletes, originally professional teams such as the Boston Celtics and Kansas City Chiefs.

However, there are unintended consequences to the more elaborate trend towards personalization. He cites the example of Spotify, where algorithims determine what people like and suggest music only according to that formula.

“Imagine a museum where you would only see art that you know you like. No one would want to go to a museum like that,’’ Fort said.

He also cautioned that for some types of industries and services — such as banking and financial services — personalization is not the best approach. That’s because they rely on trust and reliability, which need to be more constant as opposed to overly personalized.

“A little personalization can go a long way,’’ he says.

On the other hand, industries such as health and wellness are ripe for personalization and the opportunities for advances and growth are huge.

He urges companies to start testing personalization on a small scale to see what works and what leads to over-complexity and problems.

“Personalization is a super power, so you have to be careful how you use it. There is nothing worse than being served up the wrong personalized experience.”

The best advice, Fort says, is start small if you want to reap big rewards.

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