Functional lock-in and the problem of design transformation

04 May 2022

The act of introducing an innovation into an existing product by substituting or inserting new technologies is thought to be challenging due to the problem of integrating new components and sub-system architectures into existing ones. This article aims to challenge the foundation of this problem and develop new insights into the choice of functional architecture. The article will propose that the choice of functional architecture to achieve an intended purpose locks-in a design by influencing the cost of transformation. This paper studies functional lock-in based on the transformation cost of the functional architectures of products. The transformation cost for a set of biological and biologically inspired products is compared to that of engineered products. The results show that the biological and biologically inspired products have a statistically significant lower transformation cost than the engineered products. The results indicate that the structure of functions and flows in a product will constrain its transformation. More broadly, the paper proposes minimum transformation cost as an essential property of an optimal design.