An experiment was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of empathic lead user analysis for uncovering latent customer needs that could lead to breakthrough product ideas. Empathic lead users are defined as ordinary customers (or designers) who are transformed into lead users by experiencing the product in radically new ways, via extraordinary user experiences. These extraordinary experiences may include modifications of the usage environment or the way in which the customer interacts with the product. A procedure for designing and conducting empathic lead user interviews is introduced in this paper. Results are reported for a trial study in which the empathic lead user technique is compared with verbal and articulated use interviews for a common consumer product (a two-person tent). Empathic lead user interviews are observed to have a significantly positive effect on latent needs discovery in the trial study, leading to a five-fold increase in latent needs discovery relative to articulated use interviews with a prototype and a twenty-fold increase relative to verbal interviews without a prototype. Empathic lead user interviews emerge as a promising tool for supporting innovation and breakthrough concept generation.

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