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

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5.8 Dominant design

In most examples of evolving technological innovation there is a period when rival designs are competing to outperform each other, both in what they do and how well they appeal to the consumer. Certain features of a product or process come to be recognised as meeting key needs and they are incorporated in subsequent improved versions of the design. Other features might meet too narrow a set of needs to be economical and are dropped.

Gradually what emerges is a dominant design, which is the product whose form and function have evolved to become the accepted market standard.

The dominant design defines the expected appearance of a particular innovation and how it is meant to work. A dominant design is not necessarily the one with the best performance but its performance will be good enough so that, together with its other desirable features, it will meet the needs of many different types of user (Figure 16).

Figure 16
Figure 16 The Ediswan carbon-filament lamp, 1884 became a dominant design (Source: Science & Society Picture Library)

Activity 4

Can you think of a dominant design other than those named previously in this unit?


Examples I thought of were the office stapler, the briefcase and the wheelbarrow. Different manufacturers’ versions of these products have common design features and similar overall appearance.