Standards and Dominant Designs: Are they Complementary or Substitutes?
Abstract – The ordinary approach towards Standards and Dominant Designs is considering them as synonymous. This essay argues the potential confusions generating because of this common belief providing evidences that might support the different meaning of the two terms. While one may argue Dominant Designs are characterized by persistent architectures within developed or new industries, the networks effect and the interconnectivity are the crucial features of Standards. Despite that, standards play a relevant function as part of dominant designs.
The first section of the paper underlines the background of both standards and dominant designs highlighting the different theoretical foundations they derive from, whilst the second part mainly focuses on the complementary role of standards and dominant designs. Practical evidences are provided in order to support this argument. The last part of the essay discusses the implication in the market deriving from this distinct, still complementary, relationship between Dominant Designs and Standards. Other implications for corporate strategy are argued in the final part.
THERE is a frequent overlap when people discuss the concepts of Standards and Dominant Designs. It is ordinary among managers, engineers as well as a narrow part of the economic literature that considers the concept of dominant design and technological standard as synonymous, or the same implications for the two terms. Actually, the two notions derive from different backgrounds and fundamentals as well as lead to diverse consequences from the market point of view, the firms’ performances and the management ones. The aim of this brief essay is trying to put in light these differences in order to avoid this common
misinterpretation providing evidences that dominant designs and standards are complementary to each other rather than two substitutes.
II. Background of Dominant designs and Standards
Over time, several definitions have been provided in order to explain the essence of a dominant design (table I). One cannot say there is a best concept and each of us might be more inclined to support one meaning rather than another one. However, considering this starting point, there is a common view regarding the Dominant Design: “it can only be recognized post hoc based on subjective guidelines”. Henderson and Clark provided the best definition supporting this idea. They said “A dominant design incorporates a range of basic choices about the design that are not revisited in every subsequent design” (M. Henderson, Kim B. Clark, 1990). A dominant design is characterized both by a set of core design concepts - corresponding to the key functions performed by the product embodied in components - (Marples, 1961; Alexander, 1964; Clark, 1985) and by a product architecture - defining the ways in which these components are integrated (Clark, 1985; Sahal, 1986). A dominant design often emerges in response to the opportunity to obtain economies of scale or to take advantage of externalities (David, 1985; Arthur, 1988). To provide an example: the dominant design for the car includes the fact that it used a gasoline engine to provide motive force. Once the dominant automobile design had been accepted, engineers did not reevaluate the decision to use a gasoline engine each time they developed a new design (Henderson, Clark 1990). Once a dominant design is established, the progress takes place on the initial set of components (within a stable
TABLE I (Source: Riccardo David Battaglia, 2013)
DOMINANT DESIGN DEFINITION
Abernathy and Utterback (1978)
Utterback and Suarez (1993)
Christensen, Suaréz, and Utterback (1998)
Srinivasan, Lilien and Rangaswamy (2006)
Definition of Dominant Design
A dominant design is a single architecture that...
References: 1. Chiesa, R. Manzini, and G. Toletti, “Standard-setting processes: Evidence from two case studies,” R&D Manage., vol. 32, no. 5, pp.431–450, 2002;
3. C.Hill and G.Jones Strategic Management Theory: An Integrated Approach, Sixth Edition. New york: Houghton Mifflin, 2004;
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