Topics :

  • Evidence that users develop and modify products for their own use
  • Innovation is concentrated among lead users
  • Lead users’ innovation often becomes commercial products

General misconception that novel products/ services are developed by manufacturers. Even the term ‘consumers’ implicitly suggests that users are not involved in product development


Many users innovate

User innovation is basically when innovation of products are done by user firms or individual users rather than suppliers. Example of study done to show the frequency of modifying or developing industrial and consumer products. The study was done on people who really care about the product type. Surgical equipment in universities, extreme sport activities, pipe hangers and mountain biking equipment.

A finding was that the innovation rate dropped as the interest for the particular product was not much. For instance outdoor consumer products such as winter jackets. Only 10% people replied saying they did but again the 10% of a million is a big number.

So what leads to this innovation or modification – qualitative observation. The modifications are minor and by time it’s a cumulative process of combining all the minor changes. Example is a factory where all the work which was done by manual labor by time is fully replaced by machines. And again these machines were invention of common workmen. Earlier examples are textile and gun manufacturing firms.


Lead users theory

The characteristics of lead user:

1)They are the leading edge of the market trend. That is there current needs will be experienced by many users later.

2)They anticipate high benefits from obtaining a solution to their needs and may innovate.



Evidence of innovation in lead users

I       Innovation in industrial product user firm

In 1988, von Hippel and Urban conducted a study on printed circuit computer aided design software produced by different firms and the amount of modifications the users did to satisfy there need of the software. The major goal of the users were to increase the density of the board.

A sample size of 138 people using the software were cluster analyzed with 38 people put in the lead user cluster and the remaining the non-lead user cluster. The result was that 87% of the lead users modified the board while 1% of the other cluster did modification.

The interesting fact is that commercial attractiveness of the user modified software was significantly preferred by users compared to the best tools in market at that time even with double the price

II      Innovation in libraries

Morrison, Robert and von Hippel in 2000 did a study on the modifications done on OPAC(online public access system) by there users which were libraries. 102 libraries in Australia was taken as the sample. The libraries were ranked on basis of ‘lead edge status’(LES) and LES is a construct of lead users that was created by Morrison.

It was found 26% of the total libraries made modifications to the OPAC system provided by the vendors to meet there local needs. And the majority of the modifications were made by the lead users.

These features that were modified were taken to the vendors of the system and they felt that 70% of the modifications done by the users would help the companies benefit and most of these features were incorporated into the later versions of OPAC.

III     “Consumer” innovation in sports commodities

In 2003, Franke and Shah conducted study on 4 sports communities in Germany- Canyoning, Sailplaning, Bordercross  and semi-professional cycling. A total sample of 137 was considered to study user innovation.

32% of the users made modifications to their sports equipment and it was not the same in each cases. The amount of innovation depended on the complexity of the equipment.

It was found that 23% of the new modifications were later incorporated in the equipments due to its commercial potential.

IV    Innovation among hospital surgeons

Lutjhe in 2003, sampled 10 clinics in Germany to study the characteristics and features affecting the user innovation.

Out of 262 medical doctors, 22% reported to have made modifications in medical equipment used. Lutjhe found that most of the modifications were made by lead users. The lead users were modifying as a solution to the problems they face and they were technically skillful. The only barrier to innovating was found out be legal problems and liability risks.

The commercial value of the innovations was immense and later about 48% of the innovations by lead users were marketed by manufacturers of medical equipments.


Lead users contribute most of the Innovation among users. Most of these innovations become commercialized.