Skema Research > skema-event > KTO OFCE GREDEG Research seminar Stine Grodal

KTO-OFCE-GREDEG Research seminar

Stine Grodal (Boston University) will present a paper titled: "Big, beige and bulky: aesthetic shifts in the hearing aid industry (1945-2015)"


Aesthetics play an important role in the success of technology products. Scholars have theorised about how the aesthetics of technology products shift over the course of the technology lifecycle. These scholars posit that aesthetics follow a reverse pattern of the technology lifecycle with minimal novelty during the era of ferment, but that producers engage in aesthetic innovation when the technology matures to differentiate their products in the market. We extend this theory through an inductive examination of technological and aesthetic innovations in the hearing aid industry over the 70-year period 1945-2015. We identify that aesthetic innovation tends to occur within the confinement of a dominant aesthetic—that is an aesthetic manifestation, which is present in the majority of products during that lifecycle. In contrast to existing theory, we find that the aesthetics innovations that eventually generate a new dominant aesthetic tend to be launched in during the era of ferment. We find that categorical aspirations—aiming for the product to take on the meaning of other product categories—are a core driver of aesthetic innovation. Over the course of the technology lifecycle producers begin to question the dominant aesthetics and begin to draw analogies to other categories. Through analogies to other categories, producers form aspirations to have their products attain the same meanings as the categories aspired to. However, these new categorical aspirations do not immediately spur aesthetic innovations challenging the dominant aesthetic—rather they remain latent. The latent categorical aspirations do not lead to experimentation with a new aesthetic manifestation until a new era of technological ferment jolts the existing dominant aesthetic. As technological designs destabilise, it frees up producers to experiment with the accumulated latent categorical aspirations. After a period of aesthetic experimentation, the industry settles into a new dominant aesthetic, which undergoes minor aesthetic elaborations as the technology matures.

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