‘Democratizing Innovation’ Book Review

The book by Eric Von Hippel shows the reader the radically new world of ‘user-centered innovation’ the subtle and some what confusing process of users innovating products distributed by manufacturers to solve issues that they encounter. The book follows how a company can benefit from and potentially enable this kind of innovation. 


The book follows a truly comprehensive break down of not only what user-centered innovation is but also the wide range of benefits this brings to the company and society at large. The book is very informative, starting off explaining basis of user-centered innovation but also giving examples of it in process and explaining the mind set of these innovators. The book at no point expects you to merely take it’s word on this radically different innovation style; motives, limitations, profiles and examples of these innovators and their innovations are all examined in detail throughout the book. The examples are good and diverse and help spread the scope between extreme sports, electronics, software and medical interests to name a few. A lot of this instruction is technical, with empirical proof neatly provided in tables to support the arguments Hippel puts across. The content in this book completely outlined User-centered innovation for me, I felt that their was little I didn’t understand and that wide range of content made a very persuasive argument while also acknowledging the various flaws as well, especially focusing on knowledge transfer.

Writing Style

The book reads well despite a much more technical mindset. My past few books have had a far more chatty feel to them, their examples while absolutely true are presented in the warm way of an anecdote; Democratizing innovation however lacks that particular charm and makes up for it for keeping examples exceptionally well targeted, providing the exact information required and providing a wide enough and interesting enough range to make the book engaging.  The are times were the book gets lost exploring one concept but these are few and far between as the book is expertly broken up into easily digestible sub-sections which give it a natural flow.


The book reads exceptionally well, I think mainly because of it’s nicely partitioned sections. The information inside seems aimed at the manufacturers themselves, unsurprisingly focusing on convincing the reader of the value of this type of innovation which it does that superbly. From a design point of view it has quite a few interesting points as well in advice on how to access user innovations, it at least would be a good way to justify more extensive connections with user groups and gives a lot of food for thought about the role of lead users in informing design. I do recommend this to anyone who has yet realize how much information the user holds, or struggles with how to apply user knowledge.

Written By

James Burchill

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