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Designs and Design Architecture: The Missing Link between 'Knowledge' and the 'Economy'

13 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2005  

Kim B. Clark

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Brigham Young University Idaho

Carliss Y. Baldwin

Harvard Business School, Finance Unit

Date Written: February 2005


Designs are the instructions that turn knowledge into things that people value and are willing to pay for. In human cultures, almost all value inheres in designs. Designs in turn span the whole universe of human artifacts and activities. Tangible products and their production processes, intangible services and experiences, methods of transacting, contracting, governance and dispute resolution, and peaceful, representative government - all of these things are human artifacts and have designs. And fundamentally, the wealth of an economy equals the total value of the designs that can be realized within its boundaries. Small designs can just "get done" by single actors or small groups. Large, complex designs require design architectures. A design architecture divides a to-be-designed system into parts and sets up interfaces between its those parts. In effect, design architectures organize knowledge and people into networks capable of creating large, new designs whose parts will work together. Design architectures are the starting point, hence the "forward-looking" or "future-oriented" aspect of design processes. (In contrast, complete designs are the end result of design processes, and thus are "backward-looking" and "past-oriented.") Just as physical architectures both create and constrain opportunities for movement in physical spaces, design architectures create and constrain opportunities in the "design spaces" wherein the search for new and better designs takes place. Because they organize the search for new designs, design architectures are an important source of innovation, economic value and consumer welfare in a knowledge-based economy. But, despite their pervasive influence, such architectures are not much discussed by social scientists, managers and policy-makers.

Suggested Citation

Clark, Kim B. and Baldwin, Carliss Y., Designs and Design Architecture: The Missing Link between 'Knowledge' and the 'Economy' (February 2005). Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 05-01; HBS Finance Working Paper No. 664043. Available at SSRN: or

Kim Clark

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Morgan Hall 125
Boston, MA 02163
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617-495-6550 (Phone)
617-495-0316 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Brigham Young University Idaho

525 S Center St
Rexburg, ID 83440
United States

Carliss Y. Baldwin (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School, Finance Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

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