A dominant design occurs when a design with specific features becomes the de facto standard within a product sector. There’s no consensus of when this emerges, however it is probably when one design accounts for 40-60% or more of the products.
Prior to the emergence of the dominant design, there is usually an era of ferment, where firms are competing on different designs as they are not quite sure of what consumers prefer. Once the dominant design emerges, then competition usually is a winner-take-all market. The winner take all market appears to be a duopoly or monopoly structure. Essentially, what this means is that there’s just a clear preference for one product design over another.
This means that sometimes the best product doesn’t always win. And also means that path dependency, or historical events, also makes a very large difference on the outcomes of a technology.
I think from a perspective of consumer choice and democracy, this is clearly a moment of where behavioral tendencies trump more rationale decision-making perspectives. In general, I think that sometimes we end up with what is called a ‘prisoners dilemma,’ where if we all choose to maximize our own benefits, at the expense of others, that we end up with the result that is inferior in the long run. In long-run, it might mean fewer choices to choose from, which can result in some people being poorly served in a free-market.
When a dominant design emerges, there is a market opportunity for additional product categories because there is unmet needs.
For More Reading And References, See:
Anderson, P., M. Tushman. 1990. Technological discontinuities and dominant designs: A cyclical model of technological change. Administrative Science Quarterly. 35(4) 604-633.
Baldwin, C.Y., K.B. Clark. 2000. Design Rules: The Power of Modularity. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Grodal, S., Gotsopoulos, F. Suarez. 2015. The coevolution of technologies and categories during industry emergence. Academy of Management Review. 40(3) 423-445.
Utterback, J.M., W. Abernathy. 1975. A dynamic model of process and product innovation. Omega. 3(6) 639-656.
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