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This free course, Invention and innovation: An introduction, is for designers, engineers, technologists and anyone interested in designing and inventing. It is also for managers and consumers interested in innovation and technical change. The course will show you how design and innovation can create a more sustainable future. It will also help you understand how innovation comes about and will encourage thinking about environmental and social challenges for the future.
On completion of this unit, you should be able to:
- explain invention, design, innovation and diffusion as ongoing processes with a range of factors affecting success at each stage;
- explain how particular products you use have a history of invention and improvement, and appreciate the role that you and your family, as consumers, have played in this history;
- define key concepts such as invention, design, innovation, diffusion, product champion, entrepreneur, sustaining and disruptive innovation;
- explain the role of intellectual property in invention and innovation and list the various ways that inventors can protect their ideas;
- identify the range of reasons that motivate individuals and organisations to invent;
- explain the creative process by which individuals come up with ideas for new designs and inventions;
- explain the technology push, market pull, and coupling models of the innovation process and decide how well they offer a satisfactory explanation of the innovation process;
- identify and discuss the technical, financial and organisational obstacles that have to be overcome to bring an invention to the market;
- discuss the importance of choosing an appropriate design, materials and manufacturing process for a particular new product;
- explain the factors that influence how well an innovation will sell and how rapidly it is likely to diffuse into the market;
- give examples of disruptive innovations that can introduce a new way of operating in a particular industry, that can challenge existing companies and that can open up new markets for innovative products.
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Part 1 Investigating the innovation process
- 2 Part 1: 1 Living with innovation
- 3 Part 1: 2 Exploring innovation
- 4 Part 1: 3 Inventing the telephone and living with the innovation
- 4.1 An explanation
- 4.2 When and where was the telephone invented?
- 4.3 Who invented the telephone?
- 4.4 What was innovative about the telephone?
- 4.5 Was the telephone invented in response to a need or because of developments in technology?
- 4.6 Was the telephone an immediate success?
- 4.7 Has telephone design changed over time?
- 4.8 Has the telephone led to any related or spin-off products?
- 4.9 A consumer's experience of innovation
- 4.10 What has been learnt from the history of the telephone?
- 5 Part 1: 4 Key concepts
- 5.1 Introduction to key concepts
- 5.2 Inventors and inventions
- 5.3 Designs
- 5.4 Product champion
- 5.5 Entrepreneur
- 5.6 Improver
- 5.7 Innovation
- 5.8 Dominant design
- 5.9 Robust design and lean design
- 5.10 Radical innovation and incremental innovation
- 5.11 Sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation
- 5.12 Process innovation
- 5.13 Diffusion and suppression
- 5.14 Compact fluorescents and new developments
- 5.15 Intellectual property and patents
- 6 Part 1: 5 Dead certs and dead ends
- 7 Part 1: 6 Self-assessment questions
- 8 Part 1: 7 Key points of Part 1
- 9 Part 2: Invention
- 10 Part 2: 1 How invention starts
- 10.1 What motivates individuals to invent?
- 10.2 Scientific or technical curiosity
- Current section: 10.3 Constructive discontent
- 10.4 Desire to make money
- 10.5 Desire to help others
- 10.6 What drives invention in organisations?
- 10.7 Business strategy
- 10.8 Need to improve product or process
- 10.9 Opportunity offered by a new material, technology or manufacturing process
- 11 Part 2: 2 How the process of invention works
- 11.1 Five steps to invention
- 11.2 Step 1 – identification of the problem
- 11.3 Step 2 – exploration
- 11.4 Step 3 – incubation
- 11.5 Step 4 – act of insight
- 12 Part 2: 3 Technology push and market pull
- 13 Part 2: 4 Preparing for innovation
- 14 Part 2: 5 Self-assessment questions
- 15 Part 2: 6 Key points of Part 2
- 16 Part 3: Innovation
- 17 Part 3: 1 Overcoming obstacles to innovation
- 18 Part 3: 2 Diffusion of innovations
- 18.1 Introduction to diffusion
- 18.2 Characteristics of the innovation
- 18.3 Characteristics of consumers and the market
- 18.4 MP3's diffusion depended on innovations in related areas
- 18.5 Government regulations and legislation
- 19 Part 3: 3 Sustaining and disruptive innovation
- 20 Part 3: 4 Phases and waves of innovation
- Part 3: 5 Self-assessment questions
- 22 Part 3: 6 Key points of Part 3
- Keep on learning
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10.3 Constructive discontent
Inventive ideas often arise because existing technology or design proves to be unsatisfactory in some way – perhaps too costly, too inefficient or too dangerous. Using a product or process for a while can reveal inadequacies in its performance and is often vital preparation for producing ideas for improvements. You may have become dissatisfied either with an existing product or process or with the fact that something doesn't exist to meet a need you've identified. But creative individuals go further than this unfocused dissatisfaction and actually try to do something about it.
James Dyson became dissatisfied with the wheel of a conventional wheelbarrow sinking into sand and soft soil so in 1974 he re-invented the wheel. His Ballbarrow is designed with a ball-shaped wheel to ride over soft ground without sinking and to absorb the shock when used on rough ground (Figure 30). It also has feet that don't sink in the mud and a plastic bin that doesn't rust – both drawbacks of previous wheelbarrows he'd used.
Box 4 Constructive discontent and the invention of photocopying
In the early 1930s, US patent lawyer Chester Carlson began to be dissatisfied with existing methods of copying patents that he required for his work. He was determined to find a better means than the existing photographic methods, which were slow and inefficient.
After an extensive search through patents and other literature he identified some promising ideas. He began experimenting and in 1938 produced the first print using a process that eventually was to become the basis of the modern photocopier (Figure 31).
Static electricity was the key to his invention. Carlson started with a sulfur-coated plate, though later this was developed into a selenium drum, which was given an overall negative electrical charge. An image of a document was then projected or reflected onto the charged surface. The charge was removed where the light struck the surface, leaving only the dark part of the image, such as text characters, negatively charged. Positively charged particles of dry powder were then applied that stuck to the negatively charged portions of the plate or drum. The powder was then transferred to paper and fused on to it by heating, leaving a permanent image.
In his 1939 patent Carlson called this process electrophotography (Figure 32). But he soon came to call it xerography – from the Greek xeros, meaning dry, and graphein, meaning to write.
His invention was a radical departure from existing technology, however, and it took many years both to develop and improve the invention and to persuade a company to invest in it. In 1944 the Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit-making organisation, agreed to finance the invention and after a few years of development signed an agreement with a small photographic materials company, the Haloid Corporation, to market the invention.
The first electrostatic copier, the Haloid 1385, came onto the market in the late 1940s. It was manually operated and took several minutes to make each copy. Not surprisingly it was not successful at first because it did not offer an advantage over existing methods of copying, which by this time were a combination of carbon paper for a small number of copies and electromechanical stencil duplicators for a larger volume. Finally, after another decade of effort at improving the technology, the first automatic, plain-paper photocopier, the Xerox 914, was launched onto the market in 1959 – Haloid had changed its name to Xerox. This was an automatic machine that operated at the push of a button and could produce seven copies a minute. It was the foundation for a huge multibillion dollar business in which Xerox, thanks to its patents, had a monopoly until the late 1980s.
When the patent protection expired, rivals, mainly Japanese, began to enter this lucrative market in competition with Xerox. The original fairly straightforward need has been cultivated by what the ever-improving technology has made possible – monochrome copiers producing a hundred copies a minute and capable of collating, stapling, enlarging and reducing. The colour photocopier was brought out in 1973 and the laser colour copier in 1986.
Now it is impossible to imagine a modern office without photocopying facilities. Xerox also took advantage of the increasing use of computing in the office to diversify into computer printers, scanners, fax machines and multifunction machines. Many people predicted that the spread of computers would lead to the paperless office. However recent estimates suggest people are making 500 billion photocopies each year, and 15 trillion (15 000 000 000 000) copies on photocopiers, computer printers and multifunction machines combined in the USA alone (Lyman, 2003).
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Design and Innovation courses or view the range of currently available OU Design and Innovation courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Thursday, 28th July 2011
Last updated on: Tuesday, 19th August 2014
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