Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2015/49/TOM revised version of 2014/34/TOM
Products combine function and form. In contrast to most management literature, this paper focuses on product form. We introduce a structured approach to identifying styles (groupings of new product designs of similar form) among the more than 350,000 US design patents granted from 1977 through 2010. We combine state-of-the-art clustering techniques with experimental validation to compile, for the first time, a rich data set of styles. Thus we establish an empirical platform for a rigorous study of the role that product form plays in new product development. Building on this platform, we analyze the determinants of “style turbulence”: the year-to-year unpredictability of changes in a style’s prevalence. We find that (i) style turbulence follows a U-shaped relationship with respect to function turbulence (the turbulence of product functions associated with a given style), and (ii) style turbulence increases over time. We discuss the implications of these findings for managing the design discipline.