Dr. Micki Eisenman
School of Business Administration
Manufacturing Excitement: The Aesthetic Turn in Technological Industries
The paper outlines a field-level process explaining aesthetic innovation, the strategic use of aesthetic design attributes such as color and shape, in the context of the evolution of technological product markets. It argues that aesthetic innovations are more prevalent in mature market settings and that the use of these innovations is industry-wide rather than firm specific. Additionally, it argues that discursive processes support the advent of aesthetic innovation and that cultural agents produce most of this discourse rather than firms. The paper examines the Personal Computer industry in the US and demonstrates, using content analyses of pictures of PCs, that, as growth slowed in the industry, most firms in the industry engaged in aesthetic innovation. Also, by content analyzing various industry texts, the paper shows that cultural agents engage in the production of discourse about aesthetic attributes more so than firms. Furthermore, it shows that cultural agents produce texts that emphasize aesthetics and de-emphasize institutionalized aspects of technology. Thus, this paper enhances understandings of evolution in product markets and embeds technological producers in their socio-cultural environments. Moreover, it articulates the roles of firms and cultural agents in ushering aesthetic innovation.