Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Modeling of technological performance trends using design theory

  • Subarna Basnet (a1) and Christopher L. Magee (a2)

Functional technical performance usually follows an exponential dependence on time but the rate of change (the exponent) varies greatly among technological domains. This paper presents a simple model that provides an explanatory foundation for these phenomena based upon the inventive design process. The model assumes that invention – novel and useful design – arises through probabilistic analogical transfers that combine existing knowledge by combining existing individual operational ideas to arrive at new individual operating ideas. The continuing production of individual operating ideas relies upon injection of new basic individual operating ideas that occurs through coupling of science and technology simulations. The individual operational ideas that result from this process are then modeled as being assimilated in components of artifacts characteristic of a technological domain. According to the model, two effects (differences in interactions among components for different domains and differences in scaling laws for different domains) account for the differences found in improvement rates among domains whereas the analogical transfer process is the source of the exponential behavior. The model is supported by a number of known empirical facts: further empirical research is suggested to independently assess further predictions made by the model.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Modeling of technological performance trends using design theory
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Modeling of technological performance trends using design theory
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Modeling of technological performance trends using design theory
      Available formats
Distributed as Open Access under a CC-BY 4.0 license (
Corresponding author
Email address for correspondence:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

D. Acemoglu 2002 Directed technical change. The Review of Economic Studies 69 (4), 781809.

K. J. Arrow 1962 The economic implications of learning by doing. The Review of Economic Studies 29 (3).

W. B. Arthur 2007 The structure of invention. Research Policy 36 (2), 274287.

W. B. Arthur  & W. Polak 2006 The evolution of technology with a simple computer model. Complexity 11 (5), 2331.

P. Auerswald , S. Kau , H. Lobo  & K. Shell 2000 The production recipes approach to modeling technological innovation: an application to learning by doing. Journal of Economic Dynamics & Control 24, 389450.

N. R. Baker , J. Siegman  & A. H. Rubenstein 1967 The Effects of Perceived Needs and Means on the Generation of Ideas for Industrial Research and Development Projects. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management; (December).

G. I. Barenblatt 1996 Scaling, Self-similarity, and Intermediate Asymptotics: Dimensional Analysis and Intermediate Asymptotics. Cambridge University Press.

C. L. Benson  & C. L. Magee 2015b Technology structural implications from the extension of a patent search method. Scientometrics 102 (3), 19651985.

D. Braha  & Y. Reich 2003 Topological structures for modeling engineering design processes. Research in Engineering Design 14 (4), 185199.

V. Bush 1945 Science: The Endless Frontier. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 48 (3).

P. J. Cameron 1995 Combinatorics: Topics, Techniques, Algorithms, 1st edn.Cambridge University Press.

C. M. Christensen  & J. L. Bower 1996 Customer power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms. Strategic Management Journal 17 (3), 197218.

B. T. Christensen  & C. D. Schunn 2007 The relationship of analogical distance to analogical function and preinventive structure: the case of engineering design. Memory & Cognition 35 (1), 2938.

C. A Clement , R. Mawby  & D. E. Giles 1994 The effects of manifest relational similarity on analog retrieval. Journal of Memory & Language 33 (3), 396420.

D. W. Dahl  & P. Moreau 2002 The influence and value of analogical thinking during new product ideation. Journal of Marketing Research 39 (1), 4760.

G. Dosi 1982 Technological paradigms and technological trajectories. Research Policy 11 (3), 147162.

J. D. Farmer  & F. Lafond 2016 How Predictable is Technological Progress? Research Policy 45, 647665. Available at:

L. Fleming 2001 Recombinant uncertainty in technological search. Management Science 47 (1), 117132.

L. Fleming  & O. Sorenson 2004 Science as a map in technological search. Strategic Management Journal 25 (89), 909928.

K. Fu , J. Chan , J. Cagan , K. Kotovsky , C. Schunn  & K. Wood 2013 The meaning of ‘near’ and ‘far’: the impact of structuring design databases and the effect of distance of analogy on design output. Journal of Mechanical Design 135 (2), 021007.

D. Gentner  & A. B. Markman 1997 Structure mapping in analogy and similarity. American Psychologist 52 (1), 4556.

J. S. Gero  & U. Kannengiesser 2004 The situated function-behaviour-structure framework. Design Studies 25 (4), 373391.

L. A. Girifalco 1991 Dynamics of Technological Change. Van Nostrand Reinhold.

B. Gold 1974 Evaluating scale economies: the case of Japanese blast furnaces. The Journal of Industrial Economics 23 (1), 118.

A. Hatchuel  & B. Weil 2009 C-K design theory: an advanced formulation. Research in Engineering Design 19 (4), 181192.

R. M. Henderson  & K. B. Clark 1990 Architectural innovation: the reconfiguration of existing product technologies and the failure of established firms. Administrative Science Quarterly 35 (1), 930.

A. K. Klevorick , R. C. Levin , R. R. Nelson  & S. G. Winter 1995 On the sources and significance of interindustry differences in technological opportunities. Research Policy 24 (2), 185205.

H. Koh  & C. L. Magee 2006 A functional approach for studying technological progress: Application to information technology. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 73 (9), 10611083.

H. Koh  & C. L. Magee 2008 A functional approach for studying technological progress: extension to energy technology. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 75, 735758.

J. Langrish , M. Gibbons , W. G. Evans  & F. R. Jevons 1972 Wealth from Knowledge: A Study of Innovation in Industry. Halst/John Wiley.

J. S. Linsey , A. B. Markman  & K. L. Wood 2012 Design by analogy: a study of the wordtree method for problem re-representation. Journal of Mechanical Design 134 (4).

J. S. Linsey , K. L. Wood  & A. B. Markman 2008 Modality and representation in analogy. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 22, 85100.

J. Luo , A. L. Olechowski  & C. L. Magee 2014 Technology-based design and sustainable economic growth. Technovation 34 (11), 663677.

J. McNerney , J. D. Farmer , S. Redner  & J. E. Trancik 2011 Role of design complexity in technology improvement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108 (38), 90089013.

D. Mowery  & N. Rosenberg 1979 The influence of market demand upon innovation: a critical review of some recent empirical studies. Research Policy 8 (2), 102153.

J. F. Muth 1986 Search theory and the manufacturing progress function. Management Science 32 (8), 948962.

B. Nagy , J. D. Farmer , Q. M. Bui  & J. E. Trancik 2013 Statistical basis for predicting technological progress. PloS One 8 (2), e52669.

G. Nemet  & E. Johnson 2012 Do important inventions benefit from knowledge originating in other technological domains? Research Policy 41 (1).

M. Packalen  & J. Bhattacharya 2015 Cities and Ideas. Available at:

P. M. Romer 1990 Endogenous technological change. Journal of Political Economy 98 (5).

D. Sahal 1979 A theory of progress functions. AIIE Transactions 11 (1), 2329; retrieved from

D. Sahal 1985 Technological guideposts and innovation avenues. Research Policy 14 (2), 6182.

O. Shai , Y. Reich  & D. Rubin 2009 Creative conceptual design: extending the scope by infused design. CAD Computer Aided Design 41 (3), 117135.

H. A. Simon 1969 The Sciences of the Artificial, 1st edn.MIT Press.

H. A. Simon 1996 The Sciences of the Artificial, 3rd edn.MIT Press.

R. M. Solow 1956 A contribution to the theory of economic growth. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 70 (1), 6594.

I. Tseng , J. Moss , J. Cagan  & K. Kotovsky 2008 The role of timing and analogical similarity in the stimulation of idea generation in design. Design Studies 29 (3), 203221.

M. L. Tushman  & P. Anderson 1986 Technological discontinuities and organizational environments life cycles. Administrative Science Quarterly 31, 439465.

J. M. Utterback 1974 Innovation in industry and the diffusion of technology. Science (New York, N.Y.) 183 (4125), 620626.

D. E. Whitney 1996 Why mechanical design will never be like VLSI design. Research in Engineering Design 8, 125138.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Design Science
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2053-4701
  • URL: /core/journals/design-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 21
Total number of PDF views: 271 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 370 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.