From the "I heard it on NPR files..."
They were talking about a small firm here in my town of Portland that I had yet to hear about. (This town seems small, but I'm constantly amazed at all of the small and medium sized businesses ticking away out here.)
NPR was talking about RYZ shoes, a company with a new way of designing shoes. The time honored technique of crowdsourcing - that is asking the public to the work once given to highly trained professionals - is at the heart of this business.
Threadless is another example of crowdsourcing. However, if you go to their site, most of the T-shirts, again, given their look by the public, have been significantly reduced from $20-$15 all down to $12. Is this a successful example of crowdsourcing?
There is a time and a place for crowdsourcing. Netflix used a contest to have their site redesigned in a genius use of crowdsourcing. However, the RYZ shoe takes me back to the conversation of "what is design". You are putting an image, colors and images on the shoe. But the shoe itself was "designed" by, hopefully, a shoe designer. When I buy a shoe, maybe this is the sign of my age, I want it to look cool, but I also want it to be comfortable! RYZ sells essentially one shoe in many different colors and "designs". If the shoe fits, you can wear it.
So, is this the future of fashion? Is this the future of technology and new products? Mass personalization seems to ebb and flow, never completely getting off the ground, but showing small successes like the boutique companies above. It's likely to work well with sneakers and clothing and even to design the skins on your technology, but I don't think researchers and designers should be terrifically worried about being outsourced by the crowd.