i know that barbie is an easy target, but i think there are larger implications of how we ‘choose’ and ‘design’ as consumers. the way choice is structured in an obvious way here translates to the way choice is structured in more subtle ways in other consumer environments.

what is interesting about the barbie my design site is how choice is presented.
the initial choice, of course, is to go to the barbie my design site.
here we see the banner “My Design ™ Own a special friend of Barbie (r) doll!” in other words, this doll is not to be confused with the original, ‘real’ ‘genuine’ barbie doll designed in totality by mattel. this doll is at best only a ‘special friend’ of Barbie. and we all know what a ‘special friend’ means in today’s politically correct society – disabled  – not capable of that which is seen as the standard.
so let’s click on “start now – personalize a doll for yourself or a friend”
the order in which the choices are made is extremely important. We are first presented with the “look” page. go ahead and try to choose the personality first by clicking on the banner at the top. you can’t. it simply routes you back to the look page. you must choose the main characteristics in the order of importance as prescribed:
1 Look
2 Picture
3 Fashion
4 Personality
5 Your doll
6 Order
on the look page we are presented with the following options: Look (isn’t this redundant – aren’t we already on the look page. i guess it allows them to keep from saying skin or ethnicity) Light, Ivory, Tan, or Brown. (not white or black, or asian or hispanic, these labels imply too many things – also no blue) notice there is to be no blending of colors, no choices in between the categories. so make sure you have cookies enabled on your browser and choose a ‘look’. the look we choose has no implications for our choices further down – this is after all, my design. so why not choose ‘brown’ ‘look’ with ‘fiery red’ ‘hair color’ or ‘black’ ‘hair color’ with ‘light’ ‘look.’ ah, the implications of non-deterministic choice, of a utopic persona based on a conglomeration of the best.
so what are the essentials of look:
look: light, ivory, tan or brown
eyes: blue, green, or brown
lip colors: angel rose, cranberry, very cherry red
hairstyle: bobbed, stylish, pulled back, long wavy
hair color: golden blond, strawberry blond, fiery red, chestnut brown, brown, black
so what is not choosable? first of all, we are limited to a very few choices of the body. a ‘freedom from choice’ which allows the user to keep from being overwhelmed and the manufacturer from having to produce too many variations. we are limited to certain categories of certain features. we can not choose a man, 215 lbs., a shade between ivory and tan, 73 years old, with a walker.  we are limited to utopic choices. the choices presented are based on anticipated demand – the choices which children are most likely to find important. we get to choose lip color as opposed to age because a variety of lip colors is more marketable than a variety of ages. there is no need to pick age because mattel has already picked the perfect age. there is no need to pick body shape because mattel has already picked the perfect shape. to preserve an economy of choice certain decisions must be made by the producer, and these choices are made based on what will sell the most.
(so i picked brown look, green eyes, cranberry lip color, long wavy hairstyle, fiery red hair color)
click on continue and we see what our choices look like assembled. if you don’t like it, no big deal, you can go back and choose again.
next is clothing… pretty cool how your design barbie shows up dressed in all the clothing options. you can choose to see a ‘close-up’ of the outfits. this brings up an enlarged window with a description such as:
Pretty Party Dress – Short pink and lavender dress
– Faux fur pink stole
– White opera gloves
– White earrings, hand ring
– Pink pumps and lavender pantyhose
of course, all the choices are western clothing. but again, we are limited to utopic choices. i wanted to forego the accessories (purse, shoes, glasses, etc.), but this is impossible also. you must choose.

the next page is personality. which, from what i can tell, has very little to do with personality. first we get to put in her name and our name. (i chose “Monster” as her name and “Unsuspecting Child” as my name) the rest is presented in a paragraph with pull down boxes. here it becomes even more evident what is not a choice. why the pull down boxes? it is just a print-out. it would have been just as easy to allow the child to input anything into the blank fields like we did with the names. it could have been a wide open paragraph box. but we need the economy of choice, the freedom from choice. Your name? Doll name? Is this a gift for someone else? YOUR DOLL has sparkling green eyes and long wavy fiery red hair. She is wearing her new Pretty Party Dress with extra Blue La La accessories.
Her birthday is in (SELECT ONE, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, November, December).
(no year? then she might get old…)
She lives in (SELECT ONE, a big city, my neighborhood, the mountains, a beach town, a small town, the suburbs, the country, another country, her dorm)
(don’t want to get to specific and limit it to a real city, this absurdity is shown with the option “another country”?! (other than the US of course) )
and spends a lot of time (SELECT ONE, at work, helping people, at school, caring for animals, at the university, designing buildings, working with computers, playing music, at the office, practicing sports, writing novels, at home, working as a model, at the park, running a company, at the gym, building things, at the beach, teaching, riding, playing, at the ranch, making movies, playing basketball, teaching students, at the studio, training as a gymnast, flying airplanes, working).
(training as a gymnast?)
She’s interested in (SELECT ONE, sports, books, politics, fashion, nature, music, math, art, movies, community work, science, boys, computers, geology, animals, astronomy, theater, history, business, psychology, social work, doll design),
(politics… how did that make the list?  where is girls?)
loves to (SELECT ONE, read, play the piano, in-line skate, play soccer, dance, collect things, do gymnastics, act in plays, ride her bicycle, paint, collect dolls, help others, surf the Web, go exploring, play basketball, write, work out, sing, design clothes, play softball, play)
and enjoys being with (SELECT ONE, her best friend, her boyfriend, her husband, her sister, her mother, her parents, her father, her brother, her grandfather, her grandmother, her aunt, her uncle, her godmother, her godfather, her stepmother, her stepfather, all her friends, her dog, her cousin, her cat, her teammates, her co-workers, her family).
(SELECT ONE (only))
YOUR DOLL is a special friend of Barbie, personalized by you, YOUR NAME!
(the code for my design is HDF670 if you want to see it)
now you can print it, save it, email it to someone, or order it.  the design is saved on their server for a month.

The question starts to nag at you…  did I really design this doll?  I mean, yes, I did choose among limited specific characteristics from limited categories, but does this constitute design?  Do I feel any ownership, authorship, parenthood?  I did make the choices among the options presented to me but i did not get to choose the options presented to me.  Where is the line between tool and creation?  Between producer and designer?  At what point can I claim something as my creation?  Is this now “my design”?
The answer is given on the first page of the “my design” page in the fine print:
“*All proprietary rights in the design selected by the customer are owned by Mattel, Inc. Purchase of a My Design[tm] product in no way transfers the ownership of any copyrights, trademarks, or other proprietary rights owned by Mattel, Inc. or associated with Barbie® doll product.”
(it is also interesting to note that “My Design” has now been trademarked, so the next time you make such a claim be prepared to anty up to mattel.)