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Lead users

Lead users are people who make greater demands on a product, system, service or environment and therefore challenge it in ways beyond that of the average, mainstream user.

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Consulting a diverse range of people to get different perspectives into your design and development process. Talking to people throughout all stages from ideation to validation. Older and disabled people can form a key component of this, but other groups can also be consulted. It is important to have in-depth engagement, to research in context and see the issues from other people’s point of view.

Examples of lead users and what type of information they may provide

Silhouettes illustrating different user needs
    Intuitive, functional, aestetics, strength, flexibility
    Visual, audible, tactile, strenth, grip, accessible, functional
    Intuitive, small bodies, strength, coordination, aesthetics
    Aesthetics, symbolism, value, function, context of use
    Aesthetics, intuitive, strength, form, function

This list is not exhaustive – think about who would be most relevant to your project.


While it is important not to ignore mainstream users or your selected target market, working with lead users can help to explore the limits of existing designs and provide the inspiration to develop new thinking.

They can give you different insights from those obtained from your mainstream users, and help to lead design development in new and undiscovered directions. Because they make greater demands on a design, they often have to work around the limitations, revealing valuable, tacit knowledge and providing detailed insight into what doesn’t work. If a design can stand up to the demands of a lead user then this can translate into a better design for everyone. 

In Inclusive Design, people may be considered lead users for any number of reasons. This will depend on the nature of the design, what you are interested in exploring and the context of use. 

For example, if examining usability, a suitable lead user may have reduced physical ability such as poor eyesight, dexterity or hearing. It is also important to consider other aspects that may make a person a lead user. This may have more to do with their lifestyle or cultural background, or the fact that they use the design to a high level or in an extreme context.

Read more about the different lead users in detail at Cambridge University's Inclusive Design Toolkit;

Do you want to learn how to choose the right lead user buy the book