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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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5.3 Designs

A design comprises drawings, instructions or models that contain all the information for the manufacture of a product or the introduction of a process or system.

So Edison's early prototypes were different designs that physically embodied the new ideas on which his invention was based. But developing an invention in a laboratory or workshop is one thing, manufacturing an innovation to sell to others is a different matter.

Edison quickly realised that he needed to develop a complete electric lighting system, not just the electric lamp. Further, Edison had to ensure that his electric light and its related subsystems could be reproduced on the large scale that would be required to achieve commercial success. This involved producing designs of every component of his electric lighting system, in other words specific plans, drawings and instructions to enable the manufacture of products, processes or systems related to his invention (Figure 11). So design has a vital role to play in the commercial manufacture of new inventions, to specify and communicate what is to be made.

Figure 11
Figure 11 Design for screw socket, September 1880 (Source: Edison National Historic Site)

Edison's long-time associates, Edward H. Johnson and John Ott, were principally responsible for designing fixtures in the autumn of 1880. Their work resulted in the screw socket and base very much like those widely used today.

Edison and his team continued to develop and improve the lamp itself and the related devices necessary for reliable, large-scale lighting systems. They worked on techniques for creating better vacuums inside glass bulbs, improvements to the design of generators and distribution systems, and so on.