Dave King

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What makes a product authentic?

For my final year of studies as an Industrial Designer I am investigating what factors create authenticity in a product. I plan on using these insights to investigate whether digital manufacturing can help create authenticity on a mass scale.

  • Dec 13 2013: A story around a product may create the illusion of authenticity.....sorry, that's as close as you can get. Illusion is illusion is illusion...ain't no way around it.
  • Dec 18 2013: Authentic in my opinion is that which is unique in some aspect of its attribute or function or emotion. Authenticity by its very nature is non-replicable. To take an example Eiffel Tower in Paris is authentic, you can build another in New York but it will never be THE Eiffel Tower.
    Authenticity to a product can come from product itself or the people behind it or what it does in a users life.
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    Dec 17 2013: I think the authentic products don't rely on the media hype but on their features and what they benefit people. We have a famous Chinese saying:Good wine needs no bush. People have their fair judgement.
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    Dec 17 2013: I think your quesiton makes sense. And I'd be glad to tell you my opinion on this.
    I think an authentic product should be unique in its design and its concept that his producer intends to achieve to change people's life/work style or thought pattern( or with some rivetingng cultural element). And the attached premium services should also be a crucial point.

    The powerful product functions should be frist to realize.The marvelous design should be simple in shape, functional operations and it's artistic enough in arousing all kinds of people's feelings(audio, visual, touching feeling,imagination etc). The physical quality of the product should be reliable and stable enough to represent the performance of the combination. And the attached services should be pleasant and considerate as well as easy for the customers to enjoy and explain to make references to others.
  • Dec 17 2013: Dave,

    Let me ask you a question. Is a print authentic, say a numbered Picasso print? Ansel Adams can take the same negative and print it in 3 different ways which look all different. Are they all authentic or just one?
  • Dec 16 2013: Authenticity is about making people believe its authentic. Its all in people's heads; marketing, branding, and public relations. Making the customers feel like either something special, or part of something larger then themselves.

    The product itself isn't important here. Granted, its easier to make some things feel "authentic" then others (a smart phone, as opposed to toilet paper, for example) due to various perceptions, but all in all, authenticity is the marketing department's job, not product design's.
  • Dec 15 2013: Buyers
  • Dec 15 2013: Personal touches; unbiased problem solving;, imaginative and creative solutions to the needs of a customer; the ability to put the personality and unique skill set of the product's creator innovatively into the product and have this innovation somehow enhance the performance quality, or desirability of the product to the end user; providing a new or different solution to an existing problem or need that is novel and a marked improvement over prior solutions.
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    Dec 14 2013: What you mean by authentic product , may I get some insight about that first ?

    To my naive understanding , if a product delivers it's service / benefit for which the customer bought it , that's a authentic product....

    Moreover "authenticity" is very much subjective .....
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    Dec 13 2013: Let me add two more ideas for you to think about, though I expect these ideas are well covered in an industrial design program.

    One is that many people have a taste for the customized or unique. In the late 1970s the Cabbage Catch doll caught on in part because the doll had the sort of proportions known to have aesthetic appeal (cuteness) but also because each doll was different. The child knew she was the only one to have precisely that doll design.

    Now we have so much more on offer that is customized in a mass produced sort of way. I notice, for example, that the popular brand of messenger bag, Timbuktu, allows customers to select fabrics for every separate component. The figurine company Byers Choice allows shoppers to pick the head, hair, each separate item of clothing, and accessories for a made-to-order caroler.

    The owner of such a product may consider it in part creative product of his own because of the choices he made and feel a deeper connection to it for that reason.

    A separate dimension to consider, which I think is considered less and less, is that deep connections are built over time. If you make durables to not last, people will not develop a deep connection to them.

    I expect there are people on TED, but also anywhere, in the last half or third of their lives who have and use things in the house- items of clothing, for example, that they have had for thirty years. They could be pullovers or pants, jackets or shoes that still serve well.

    The model of durability is entirely different now than when those were purchased. People are unlikely, fortunately, to develop a deep attachment to something that will probably last only through two washings, unless it is a wedding dress or something.
  • Dec 13 2013: First Factor: IT IS NOT DONE ON A MASS SCALE!

    As long as you adhere to those three, you are off to a good start toward authenticity. You ignore any of the above rules, you have eliminated authenticity.
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      Dec 13 2013: Hi Bryan,

      Thanks for the reply. I completely agree with the points that you are arguing, the current mass manufacturing model doesn't support the creation of objects with true authenticity. I am investigating whether industry could move away from this stigma and produce items with genuine authenticity and warmth by utilising new manufacturing and supply methods. I'm curious as to what examples you have of authentic items that you could share with me and perhaps a little about why you think they're authentic? And perhaps if you have any examples of where it's been tried on a mass scale and not worked
      • Dec 16 2013: If it comes from "industry", it cannot be authentic. "Authenticity" as it is desired means "made by artisans in small shops in which the owner works as an actual laborer because he must, not because he merely wishes to", not "made by huge factories in which the owners are stockholders and chief managers are extremely wealthy and divorced from the daily life of production".

        The only way that "industry could move away from this stigma" is for it to slit its own throat.

        As for authenticity not working on a mass scale--the US market is inundated with fake-authentic items that are made in factories and have an attempt at looking "old-fashioned" in their packaging. They're fake. Everyone knows they're fake.

        It's simple:
        Exterminate the large factory.
        Eliminate industrial designers.
        Eliminate mass marketing.

        The result will be authentic. Everything else will just be another mass-marketed lie. Putting a pretty bow on a lie makes it no less a lie, and all you want to do is put a pretty bow on a lie.

        If it is done on a mass scale, it cannot be authentic.
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          Dec 16 2013: Bryan, I would argue that authenticity is not solely the product of the artisan worker, although this is one element of it. Whether the product is a clay pot made in the hands of a master potter or a precision made guitar made in the hundreds of thousands, if the true belief and passion of the creator is manifested in the physical object itself then surely this makes the object authentic.
      • Dec 17 2013: Your latest response to me reads like corporate advertising copy. Who is "the creator" in the gigantic, faceless, soulless factory that turns out hundreds of thousands of anonymous Item X? Is it the worker in Station 3, who taps one item into place and sees little to nothing more of the item? Is it "Inspected by 23"? Is it some corporate hack with an MBA? Is it a designer who might have made a prototype but does not touch the actual production models? Who is the creator? Indeed, if something is done by the "hundreds of thousands", there isn't even a designer. There is some laboratory or engineering workshop. Authenticity requires the Master's hand or at very least the Master's eye. When it reaches the "hundreds of thousands" level, it cannot ever be authentic, except for being an authentic representation of mass production and the mechanization of humanity.
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    Dec 13 2013: Could you define authenticity for your purposes?
    • Dec 13 2013: I think he means "Faux folksy", like if Nestle were to market some sort of "Authentic, Old-Style Peanut-Butter Cookie" that was developed in a laboratory and made in factories but has a picture of two old people on the package, dressed up like what some marketing wonk thinks "Grandma and Grandpa" should look like.
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        Dec 13 2013: Yours was not my guess of what he might mean, though we will need to wait for Dave's explanation to verify. He could mean demonstrating that a product is what it says it is, like the actual designer version rather than a knock-off (like a sort of finger-printing for apparel). Or he could mean he wants to design products that an individual customizes to reflect his tastes precisely, as if it were made to individual specs.
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      Dec 13 2013: Hi guys,

      I plan to look at how, in a world of a world of mass produced ubiquitous objects (sometimes shrouded by the romanticism of authenticity, see: http://observatory.designobserver.com/feature/the-theater-of-making/34348/) we might develop new ways of manufacturing artefacts to give a genuine deeper connection with the intended user. We are currently in the midst of a new revolution in product design, the tools of creation, distribution and consumption are becoming more and more democratised. I personal feel that there is a chance for the wider design world to make use of these tools to create products with depth and meaning.

      I started this conversation to get a general feel of what makes a product feel authentic, whether this be knowing the maker themselves, the materials the object has been made out of, the quality of the product etc...
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        Dec 13 2013: A cake baked by Mom needs to be baked by Mom to be authentic. A painting painted by Rembrandt needs to have been painted by Rembrandt to be authentic.

        A photograph taken and developed by the photographer if he usually develops his own has more authenticity than one developed from his negative by someone else, but the latter has more authenticity than a photo by someone who stands in the same place at the same time of day as the original photographer did and poses the same shot.

        But it sounds like what you are really looking for is not whether you can somehow reproduce something that a person will consider the equivalent of something made by particular beloved hands. The bar you are trying to reach is more accessible.

        Over the many years, children have developed a deep connection to objects that happen to be manufactured. Many a child has a deep, very long-term connection to a teddy bear or doll, for example, even though it was mass produced. That is because the child charges the doll with meaning.

        The "quality" of the doll in someone else's judgment is not really relevant.

        You might read the little children's book "The Velveteen Rabbit" as an example.

        I think adults can become similarly attached to particular garments, cars, china, and so forth. It could be that it is extremely comfortable, fits well, and has been with the person through important experiences. It could be that it corresponds to the person's image of himself. It could remind the person of a person, situation, or feeling- like a painting of a person who happens to have the same hair or mouth as one's deceased aunt.
      • Dec 16 2013: Yup, faux-folksy.