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Trends Forecast: Customization

Minimum orders have come down significantly as manufacturers have ramped up customization options to fill a void in the marketplace.

By Stacy Garcia

Minimum orders have come down significantly as manufacturers have ramped up customization options to fill a void in the marketplace.

What is a trend? This may seem like a simple question, but actually spotting trends, and being able to separate them from the other noise is not always intuitive. For a trend to truly be a trend, it must have staying power. Movements build up slowly over time. What we see is not the rise and fall of single trends developing on their own, but the evolution of one trend into another as society and tastes evolve.

Trend forecasting has been a focus of my career. It is something that many designers in the past have overlooked—trusting that manufacturers would be on target with their products. Now, customization is a trend that has turned the spotlight onto the designers themselves, and with that comes more responsibility.

The customization trend is actually affecting the way we perceive other, more traditional trends in design—like color and pattern.

With new tools that allow individual interior designers, and even individual consumers, to create products for themselves, it is hard to get a clear design focus. Being able to pick out trends can help keep that wide world of options in check. For us as designers, understanding how to curate products and follow trends in a smart and stylish way is how we can stay one step ahead of our clientele and maintain our relevance.

It's nice to have a "what's hot now" aesthetic with new "it" colors and styles; but a truly good design should maintain its appeal five years out or longer—especially when working with high-investment interior design. Fads come and go. We want our products and our designs to last.

What is happening in the world today, and how does that impact our thoughts, emotions and desires? These are the drivers that shape trends. Once we can put design in this greater context, we can start to recognize which movements do and do not have staying power.

Let's use the customization trend as an example, and look at all the drivers behind it.

Web technology is changing the face of customization. Right now, you can design your own shoes with the Nike I.D. program, use Uncommon to create unique iPhone covers, and build a customized Mini Cooper—right from a computer. These types of programs are becoming more common in the design world as well.

These Web-based applications have made it easy for designers to interface with manufacturers—any time, any place—allowing them to control the whole process themselves on a website. This process is also good for manufacturers because putting the control in designers' hands doesn't require costly overhead inventory. Everything is made on demand.

I recently partnered with Lamps Plus on a new program called "Design Your Own," which allows designers to take my pre-existing lamp shade patterns and re-colorize them using any RGB value, hue or saturation (see examples in images at top of this page or visit the Lamps Plus web site). As a color forecaster, it has been interesting to hand over control of the palette on these shades. Of course, it's great when designers choose the colors I began with, but I also love seeing where their creativity takes them. As the control of this custom design process changes hands, we get another driver:

Once consumers reach a certain level of control over the design process, there is no longer a guide giving them advice or helping them make aesthetic choices. They have to educate themselves on what exactly is good design.

Being able to act as your own expert is no doubt empowering—the more people know, the more they want to control. As a designer, it is important to make sure you're communicating with your customer. Just because you can go online and look at WebMD doesn't mean you should stop consulting your doctor. The same holds true for design.

Expert designers begin to feel that if they're not customizing aspects of their designs, the overall effect is somehow less authentic. With mass produced objects, there is a chance that multiple designers will be using the same products in their work. There has been retaliation against that; because as designers, it is always important to have our own stamp on things. Our unique voice and vision is ultimately what we are selling to our clients.

At Stacy Garcia Inc., we founded our business on the inspiring process of collaborating with interior designers to create unique pieces. We act as a niche expert, using materials in new, innovative ways and helping the designer specify products that are ahead of the curve to give a more timely look.

In the past decade, outsourcing has become less of a phenomenon and more of an understood, inherent part of manufacturing markets. Domestic design houses have responded by changing their business models. Mass production will remain, but it has gone overseas.

Within the United States, companies have ramped up their customization options to fill a void. Customization, to be clear, is not a brand new idea in manufacturing. The difference is that today you can do limited runs with ease and flexibility. Minimums have come down significantly, opening up customization as an option for a wide range of projects. In essence, these companies are selling their concept of partnership as a product. They are offering quality manufacturing capabilities and smaller minimums while not imposing the large production runs required by most mills overseas. This is the perfect mix for customization.

The customization trend is a great opportunity to learn an important lesson about trends in general: use with care.

With customization tools, designers no longer have mills and manufacturers making trend choices for them. The entire spectrum of colors and other options is at our fingertips.

Once we are freed from the old model of manufacturer-controlled trend development and pre-manufactured products, we run the risk of getting carried away. In a world of amazing options and wild possibilities, we must always temper our own creative vision by asking ourselves, "What will make our customers happy?" That requires restraint.

As an expert on the product side, I try to give interior designers the tools they need to get creative. I am also continuously producing new collections that are on trend and can last for years. That mix of trend-based products and customization options has been my fool-proof formula.

Interestingly, in my own studio, I have rounded out my colorful offerings with neutrals. Our 2011 collections were driven by a backlash to everyday chaos and are comprised of subtle, repetitive textures and a monochromatic palette. By working with neutrals, we are guaranteeing longevity. Our customers can change accessories to be as wild as they want, but our fabrics and carpets will remain a relevant backdrop as fads come and go.

Just because something is available to you—whether it's a product, pattern, or color palette— doesn't always mean you should use it. Out of all the noise and options, it is crucial to be able to: identify and follow your own trends; give your designs a clear voice and direction; and deliver your clients something they will be happy with over time. It is that ability that separates the design pros from the pack.

A visionary, creative design entrepreneur and artist, Stacy Garcia is a leader in the hospitality industry. Recognized for her insights and forecasts, Garcia is known for her inventive use of color and her remarkable eye for pattern design. She brings an energy and enthusiasm to her companies and to the hospitality industry—putting an original spin on trends that are unique to the Stacy Garcia® brand. More information can be found at or