Certain technologies, in science or business, become ‘dominant’. In science, for example, this would include animal models, such as the lab rat, that become standards for pre-human testing. In business, examples of dominant design would include the iPod and the QWERTY keyboard. These dominant designs emerge not only because of their intrinsic quality, but because their dominance is reinforced by the creation of complementary products or investments. For lab rats, this would include a detailed scientific literature that provides biological background on these animals. For the QWERTY keyboard, it would include the investment in typing skills by the established base of users. This evolution of these complementary ecosystems makes them harder to dislodge as standards than their quality might otherwise suggest. This can have a good or bad effect on society:
The emergence of dominant design can allow for the economies of scope and scale, making production more efficient (Utterback and Abernathy 1975) – a social good.
The emergence of a dominant design can lock in a particular technological path. This could potentially be sub-optimal (e.g. QWERTY keyboard), or it could guarantee a monopoly with high prices (e.g. iPod) – both social bads.