Industrial Designers as a Driver of Technology Innovation: Evidence from a Japanese electronics industry

Tohru Yoshioka-Kobayashi / Toshiya Watanabe


“Design-driven Innovation” is now widely recognized as one of the most competitive business creation approach. This concept includes cross section of design-oriented innovation and technology-driven innovation (Verganti, 2009). However, these arguments tell littlie about innovators for such a type of innovation. This study tried to examine a potential of industrial designers to technology innovation. Using data of patents applied by Japanese major 16 home electronics companies during 1995-2004, we examined the correlation between technological quality of patents (measured by inventor forward citations and examiner forward citations) and their inventors’ categories (measured by intra-firm rank of aggregated numbers of patent applications and deign registrations). In the categorization, we have set top productivity design right creator as a group of industrial designers, who are belong to the design department or the design center. Our result shows including a top productivity design right creator as an inventor will lead to be significantly higher in technological quality. Especially, creators who represent mediumtop level patent productivity and top design productivity, hold a consistently high and significant positive effect on their technological outputs. This result suggests that industrial designers who have certain amount of technical knowledge play a key role in design-driven technology innovation.