Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2014/34/TOM
In this paper we introduce a structured approach to identifying styles (categories of product designs that are similar in form) among the nearly 400,000 US design patents granted from 1977 through 2010. We combine state-of-the-art clustering techniques with experimental validation to make available, for the first time, a rich data set of styles. We thus establish an empirical platform for the rigorous study of managing product form. Building on this platform, we analyze the dynamic property of “form turbulence”—the unpredictability of changes in the number of patents granted to a style from year to year. We find that (i) the level of turbulence in product form follows a U-shaped pattern with respect to the level of turbulence in product function, and (ii) product form turbulence is increasing over time. We discuss the implications of these findings for the management of product design.