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The Handbook of Technology and Innovation Management by Scott Shane

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4.1. Product Development Research: Intellectual Heritage

Product design/development is frequently perceived as a young academic discipline. This is probably true if one compares it with physics or even engineering. Yet, although the management literature on this topic emerged only in the 1970s (the oldest paper referenced in the excellent literature review of Brown and Eisenhardt, 1995, was published in 1969), researchers have aspired to create a science of design for almost a century. In this section, we explore the (frequently forgotten) intellectual ancestors of product development research. Some of the early references remain highly relevant readings today and also show interesting similarities with more recent research.

Human beings have created artifacts in the form of tools, weapons, houses, and other things for thousands of years. Alexander (1964) refers to these early design efforts as unselfconscious designs. In this situation, a product is the outcome of a complex two-way interaction between the product and its environment (Figure 4.1). Alexander provides the example of the Mousgoum hut, a building form that in many ways provides a perfect design in its usage environment of Camerun, including isolation and weather protection. However, we would not say that the Mousgoums designed their houses. Rather, they kept on refining their houses in response to problems and failures in a process that was carried out over many centuries. Thus, the resulting design was as much an ...

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