Appropriation vs Customization

So I had an interesting talk with one of my professors, Erik Stolterman, about my capstone topic on Tuesday. He was curious to know what my topic has to do with HCI, specifically, why I’m only looking at creative appropriation, and not everyday appropriation. To be honest, I was a bit dumbfounded by the question. It’s not that I’m not looking at everyday appropriation. Or rather, he’s correct, I am not looking at everyday appropriation, because I don’t feel what he was talking about is appropriation at all. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum, and that end of the spectrum is called customization.

His examples included such things as buying a case for his iPhone which suited his style, or setting a GMail theme or iGoogle theme… these are customizations to me, and not appropriations. You may disagree, which is totally fine and most likely expected. Why do I feel this to be true?

According to The Free Dictionary, customization is when one “makes or alters to one’s personal specifications.” Synonymous definitions would be to have something made to a “customer’s individual requirements.” In which case, I mean to say that customization is not necessarily a creative act. It is not something in which the customer is also the individual doing the customizations. Whereas with my definition of appropriation, I specifically state…

Appropriation: The act of adapting an object to oneself in a way that not only redefines the object, but also relates the object to one’s sense of self.

So while I should probably look at examples of customization, and I surely will for design exemplars, I still feel that customization is still very different from appropriation, simply because appropriation has a heavier meaning to the individual. At least, this is my theory on the subject.

It is incredibly important to recognize it is the act of appropriating that makes it more meaningful. That the individual doing the appropriating has made a choice to creatively express oneself in a way that redefines the object in a way that somehow reflects the individual’s personality, perhaps.