Accurate measurements and design standards: consistency of design and the travel of 'facts' between heterogeneous groups
Design standards are carriers and creators of facts, enabling facts about product value to travel between groups, and assisting in the creation of product value by establishing a reference or comparison against which product attributes are compared. However, when design standards are not consistent, facts about product value may not travel well, even when designs can be expressed or measured with a high degree of precision. Examining the evidence from British iron and steel industry in the nineteenth century, this paper demonstrates how inconsistent design standards (wire sizes) inhibited the travel of facts about the ‘true value’ of wire products. Consistency in wire sizes depended upon the desirability of certain sizes amongst user and producer groups; often they differed both within and between the relevant groups. Convergence on a common system had to be achieved through intense negotiations between the producer and user groups, with the state becoming involved as an arbitrator. Consistency was a negotiated construct; once achieved, it enabled facts about wire products to be transmitted using consistent design standards.
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