Dominant designs in complex technological systems - A longitudinal case study of a telecom company 1980-2010

Henrik Sievers

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The different processes used to innovate and produce successful products and services for companies and define service and even industry architectures ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­–dominant designs— have received significant scholarly interest. This study sheds light on this process to understand the evolutionary character of dominant designs within complex technological systems. To do so, it provides longitudinal empirical study of a telecommunications industry and the Nordic case company Sonera from 1980-2010. The units of analysis are Sonera's major businesses, products and strategy that intertwine with industry. To understand the evolution of dominant designs in complex technological systems, theoretical discussion, the management and sociology of technology, an economics perspective, and dynamic capabilities are utilized. The findings identify the key sources of innovation and the processes that drive managers in a multi-product firm to manage its dominant designs successfully. The findings indicate that the likely sources of innovation (and their variations) lead to the rejection of old dominant designs and the emergence of new ones. A key finding is that these sources of innovation produce a shift to a customer/market orientation from a R&D and science orientation as the industry evolves into a more open and horizontal market form. At the same time, the role of the incumbent multi-product firm diminishes, and that of vendors and niche players strengthens. Moreover, the research identifies the most important building blocks that can lead to the successful creation of a new dominant design. Evidence of change in the relative roles or contributions of various building blocks was seen, depending on the overall life-cycle evolution of the industry and the specific organization. Finally, the role and nature of firm's products as complex technological systems for shaping the process and outcomes related to dominant designs was seen as important. Instead, new dominant designs emerge in systems characterized by industry convergence when the new technology aligns with the capabilities and incentives of the receiving unit. This study is a rare example of extensive longitudinal data being analyzed both at the company and an industry level in strategic marketing studies. The study thus contributes by creating a framework for the adaptation of dominant designs. The integration of dynamic capabilities, sensing, seizing, and transformation framework to ongoing industry evolution is especially valuable.
Translated title of the contributionDominant designs in complex technological systems - A longitudinal case study of a telecom company 1980-2010
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Tikkanen, Henrikki, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6166-5
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6167-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • dominant design
  • evolution
  • innovation
  • complex technological systems
  • dynamic capabilities
  • historical research
  • telecommunications


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