Diffusion of Innovation, Part One

Recently I came across an excellent article on diffusion of innovation, “How To Have Users Spread Your Innovation Like Wildfire,” written by Victor Yokko for Smashing Magazine. The article seemed interesting to me, so I decided to translate it for Habrahabr. The second part is already on the way.

We are designers, and we want as many people as possible to use what we have created. It does not matter if it is a specialized surgical device or something more common, like a smartphone or a video game.

We often focus on the convenience of our product. Less often discuss the factors affecting its adoption. People do not immediately take into use even the best and most practical technologies, their implementation occurs in stages. To take root, innovation must come to life correctly. And project teams need to consider the convenience and how the product is distributed among people.

Everett Rogers (1931-2004) was a professor of communications and rural sociology at US universities. He built his career on the study of the distribution of ideas and technologies among people. The theory of “diffusion of innovation” is trying to identify and consider factors associated with it. Project teams (design teams) that understand and take these nuances into account have the greatest chances for their adoption by the broad and waiting masses.

This two-part article series will talk about applying diffusion of innovation to digital design and show examples of how teams can incorporate these principles into their work. In the first text, I will conduct a simple overview of the theory and discuss its two main components: different types of users and the key steps for adopting innovations.

User Types and Acceptance Process

Spreading new ideas and technologies among people is a complicated thing. Sometimes even good products can’t boast large numbers (for example, in the USA, you can’t just use asbestos as a building material for homes).

Bad ideas in action: bans in America The

rural sociologist Everett Rogers wrote in 1962 a book in which he tried to explain the concept of “diffusion of innovation,” the diffusion of new ideas and technologies. The theory shows the ways in which a product appears on the market, which will be adopted and dispersed in society. Its key concepts include:

  • Innovation - ideas, processes and technologies that users consider new. This may be something completely new (as in the case of the invention of a modern air conditioner by Willis Carrier), a fresh approach to an existing idea (Sony’s PlayStation game consoles), or a product entering another market (for example, 3D movies on home TVs).
  • Users (translator's note - in the original are called “adopters”; for easier understanding, replaced with the closest version in the Russian language) - those who accept innovation. Rogers distinguishes between five types of people, which we will talk about.
  • The critical mass is the point when people who accept innovation are enough for its self-sufficiency.
  • The adoption process is a five-step process (according to Rogers) leading to the acceptance / rejection of a product or idea.
  • The diffusion theory of innovation describes six characteristics that define acceptance / rejection. The second article will talk about them.

Additional key factors are communication (communication), time and social systems. We will also talk about them in the second article.

Rogers was interested in how farming innovation spreads across villages. He remarked that while some people immediately started using new seeds or upgraded equipment, others resisted replacing old and less effective methods. We no longer consider steel plow modern technology to be adopted. We will look at today's smartphones or tomorrow’s smart watches as yesterday’s plow. This is proof of the relevance of the theory. In fact, the latest edition of Rogers' work raises the issue of changing the rules of the game on the Internet in terms of communications and adoption of innovations.The theory of diffusion of innovations is applicable to the creation of both material and digital products.

Innovation Yesterday and Today: John Deere Steel Plow and Apple Watch

Users: innovators, laggards and everyone in the middle

Rogers study describes five types of users. In general, each category says when an innovation will be accepted by man. Some shortcuts are common and familiar. Let's walk through them and their attributes in chronological order of adoption:


Most of us have heard and used this term. Innovators are those who wrinkle in line for a fresh product. It may even be a knowingly unsuccessful technology (remember only the game console from Laserdisk). Typically, such people have good earnings , understand the science behind the new product, and have a high status in their social group . In other words, they are cool enough not to suffer much if they get something wrong. Plus, they are not going to use this product for long. Anyway, something new and shiny will appear in the future.

Researchers say: 2.5% of the population are innovators. Sometimes they set the direction for development, but the rest do not rely on their opinion in the choice of technologies. It is well known: innovators will buy short-term things, and then quickly replace them with something else. For example, Richard Branson is an innovator. It will be difficult for most people to catch up with him on purchases, and very few will try.

Richard Branson, indecently wealthy innovator. Try to catch up with him if you can.

Innovators are not the category of users to focus on if you want as many people as possible to use your product. For example, a boutique that is very different from the norm will attract the attention of only these innovators.

If you focus on innovators, you need to understand exactly why your product is cool.. How do users distinguish it from others? Your design should reflect the social status that lovers of new products like. It is bright and mixed with the latest technology.

Your product doesn’t even have to be very useful: innovators will simply buy something that will attract their attention. However, if your development is not particularly practical, then it is unlikely that it will go further than the innovators, and they will quickly replace it with something new.


Pioneers see the need for innovation or change. They know that a specific solution is needed for a particular problem. Researchers claim: 13.5% of users in this category . Like innovators, they have a high income, most often they are well educated and can boast of high social status.

Pioneers are more selective than innovators. They must see the practical value of the product before trying it out. On top of that, these are opinion leaders; later on, they often set the development trend. When the later adopters decide to take on something new, this is most likely due to success among the pioneers.

It is recommended that you focus the lion's share of your efforts on pioneers.Focus on them to make your innovation a commonplace among potential buyers. Things that solve old problems in a new way, with high quality and long-term practicality are suitable for this type of user.

First you need to understand what your pioneers are . This can be done by looking at the selected market. Who is actively looking for a solution to the problem? Who is the leader of opinions? Who makes purchasing decisions and already uses products similar to yours? Next, you need to engage users in the work. There are several ways to do this:

  • Conduct a series of interviews to understand the attitudes, opinions, and user behavior regarding your development.
  • Invite people to the design session of your product, they will suggest ideas and what needs to be done to address the problem and how best to deal with it.
  • Invite them to become beta testers so they share reviews with you.

This will help inform people about your innovation, show the product not only to potential pioneers, but also to the early majority (early majority), reckoned with their opinion.

Early majority

These people take the advice of pioneers. It will take a long time for them to want to accept the innovation. This will happen only when it is already verified by others. The early majority has less net income, they do not affect society as much as pioneers, and, above all, they want to take less risk . They need proof that it is practical and will last a long time. But this does not mean that this category should be ignored. Researchers say 34% of all users are an early majority . If you want to gain critical mass, you will need these guys.

Don't focus on the early majority if your innovation is truly unique. And I highly recommend including this category of people in your usability tests. These potential buyers should consider your product worth the investment of time and money that they will have to spend on adapting their habits. If you have early feedback on the practicality of your development, you can take into account their needs for the final design.

A lot of time will pass before your innovation spreads among the early majority. Users from previous categories will need time to sort out your product and determine its benefits. People may not regard your work as very innovative by the time it reaches the early majority.

Focusing on the early majority will help in demonstrating the product (and subsequently in marketing) and getting feedback . These users must make sure from the experience of the pioneers that they save their time and money with your development, or they must associate your product with the social status they are striving for. For example, initially only doctors and important people used pagers. Many people wanted to get these things, so that others would consider them cool (of course, now nobody needs a pager).

Later most

These people are skeptical of innovations and do not think to accept them until pioneers and the early majority prove the success of these products. It is estimated that “late” account for 34% of the total number of users . They have a small income, social status is below average, there is no impact on others. These people are not risk averse and will not accept innovation until the previous categories prove its benefits. By this time, years will pass from the moment of the release of the then novelty.

When your product receives the recognition of the late majority, your team will already have reviews from other groups. Most likely you will even manage to incorporate them into your development and update the design. You should focus on providing information to previous categories and new ways to use your development. Initial technologies and ideas will no longer be so fresh. It's time to innovate again. Later, most will play a key role in supporting you while you work on future ideas.

If your development initially came out with a lot of bells and whistles, you may have to make a light version for the later majority, which does not really need them. Apple has targeted this category with its iPhone 5C. In Cupertino, it was believed that the price barrier prevented potential “late” ones from acquiring their smartphone.

Lagging behind

Laggards are the last to accept innovation. Usually they should be almost forced to go forward . In general, they are not at all risk averse, they have low or no income at all, they have nothing to do with innovators or the early majority, and they have almost no effect on those around them in their social groups. Your cousin from the hinterland, refusing to use a mobile phone, is lagging behind. For example, such people refused to use e-mail until work dictated the conditions for them to have it.

You should not create for the laggards. They do not voluntarily accept innovation. If your product significantly affects the right users, it will also depend on them how the resistance of the lagging ones will be suppressed. This may be through the rules (as in the case of e-mail), taxes or some other penalties for those who refuse to go forward.

Determining who belongs to which group is very important. This will affect your marketing and the way you research different categories of people. There is no universal approach to this issue. For example, a lagging behind with some old telephone may always have the newest sewing machine. They simply distribute their limited resources. Your team needs to figure out which people are in which categories, how they relate to your product.

Disk-dial Phones - Selecting Backlogs

Step by step: adoption process

We got acquainted with the characteristics of users and how to handle them. Now it’s worth talking about the adoption process. Researchers of diffusion of innovation identified its five main stages. Understanding and taking into account these nuances will allow you to correctly provide the necessary information to potential buyers.

Note that the time spent on each of these steps can take a matter of seconds or for many years. It all depends on the personality of the user. An innovator who is faced with something new will want to purchase it and will quickly move from the first to the third stage in one day. An early majority may know about your product, but it will take years for a sufficient number of pioneers to accept your development and subsequently affect the rest.


The first step is for the potential user to learn about the existence of innovation. But they still do not have the opportunity to get more information.

This stage largely determines your marketing. How do you make potential buyers find out about your product? Do they even know that there is a problem that your innovation solves? Decide which marketing methods work best. If your development is an upgrade to an existing product, you have the advantage of working with an already knowledgeable audience. Try to do something from the list:

  • Emailing existing users about an upcoming update or release
  • Highlight new features in articles on your company’s website
  • Make the update free

Tell people why the updated version is better than the original or how innovation solves critical problems. Do not dwell on existing users. An update or release will attract new users to your product. Conduct a study of potential users and determine how best to present them your innovation.

If your product is first generation, then you have other problems. You will have to find a way to inform people who are still inaccessible. This can be done this way:

  • Topical Media Advertising
  • Offer to test your product for free to users of similar developments
  • Provide reviewers with access to your product by asking them to review popular sites
  • Public demos of your product

You need to cultivate interest around your innovation , show how it solves an existing problem, and enable potential users to easily find information about your product.

For example, if you are making a video game or a console, think about E3, the annual exhibition of games, and make an announcement there.


Potential users now know about your innovation and are actively looking for information about it.

Information is very important at this point. Your team should be ready to meet potential buyers trying to learn something new. Do research, find out the questions most interested in your audience, before you engage in marketing.

Place the information so that you can easily find it. There are many ways to accurately “deliver” it to potential users :

  • online video
  • magazine articles and publications
  • links in the social. the media
  • new site or improvement of an existing
  • presentations at conferences and shows
  • trial periods of use

The above will help you get a good share of innovators and pioneers. You will need them to get feedback and model the use of the product to attract the attention of the early majority and other groups.

Make sure your information is accurate. Creating unjustified expectations is very detrimental and frustrating to users.

Continuing the example above, I want to say: having announced a game or console on E3, your team may want to put up a stand with information (for example, booklets) about your product. Give links to places where you can find videos, codes for downloading trial versions and see promotional materials. This will ensure publicity.


This is a very important point! Potential users will decide whether to try innovation or not. Researched notes: this is the most personal step in the adoption process . Therefore, there is no formula for successfully convincing anyone. Everyone will make decisions based on available information, their time, financial resources, competing innovations, their values ​​and beliefs.

The success of innovation is determined by the decisions of potential users. Your team must create transparency during the persuasion step. You are not powerless. You can do a lot to help future buyers:

  • Provide a clear message. Why is your product worth the money?
  • Ensure product availability. Consider how people will look for it:
    • If this is something tangible, will it be sold in ordinary stores, online or on pre-order?
    • If this is a digital product, will it be downloaded, bought at a computer store or will it be received in another way?
    • If your innovation is an idea, how will you get to know it? Through a book, webinar, face-to-face lesson, or lecture?
    • Potential buyers can afford this purchase? Remember that all groups have different resources, and they spend them in their own way.

Answers to these questions will tell you the method and time when your potential users should get access to the product.


This step involves using the innovation itself. Individuals have already familiarized themselves with it, gained access to it, and decided whether they will take it or not. Users test the product in various situations based on its intended use (for example, daily use in the case of office equipment or several days a year for the Christmas tree).

Congratulations! People are now using your product. But not the time to relax. Users will try everything you did. All your research and tests will play a role at this point. If your innovation is useful and practical, it has a good chance of being accepted by those who have come to this step.

the confirmation

Users are finally determined with the decision regarding the use of your product.

The number of users who decide to continue to use your product will determine the diffusion of innovation. Development has a great chance if you have taken the basic steps described in the previous paragraphs and correctly addressed all categories of users. It’s also very good that at this stage you may have evangelists telling about your product and recommending it to friends and family.

Actively collect information about people who continue to use your product, as well as about those who stopped doing this. Determine what worked and what didn't. Even high adoption innovations need to be refined. Once you figure it out, you will satisfy both current and future users.

If your innovation has not reached a critical mass, not everything is lost. Your team has a great chance to understand and analyze the weak points and how to deal with them in the future. Conduct research and interviews with those who have tested your product and decided to abandon it. This will help you with the next development. Perhaps the problem is something simple and obvious, like the price or poor functioning of the technology, or a competing product does the same as yours, only better. Everything you find will help you in the future.

iPhone: love story

Let's walk through the concepts described in the article, on the basis of the incomprehensibly successful and already ordinary thing - the iPhone.

Steve Jobs in June 2007 at the annual convention MacWorld announced the release of the first iPhone, scheduled for January 9th. Time and place were strategically important:

  • MacWorld Audience - Apple innovators and pioneers.
  • Potential buyers had 6 months to search for information to make a decision. And the extra time was very important for AT&T, as people managed to switch from their telecom operators.

Advertising was aimed at convincing people between the announcement of Jobs and the launch of the iPhone.

January 9, 2007: Steve Jobs announces iPhone

When the product was launched, many users went through the steps of solving, implementing, and validating almost instantly. This was partly due to the ease of use and the applications available to people right away.

The iPhone was immediately an expensive thing: only more or less wealthy people could afford it. But there was an opportunity to bring down the scene by signing a two-year contract with AT&T. Apple chose this strategy for a reason. Revenues in this case completely covered the “discount”.

Over time, the early majority realized that the iPhone would linger for a long time and was well worth the money. This is the stage when the "later" began to gradually take into their lives a phone from Apple and other similar products.

The iPhone’s continuous updating strategy is effective for at least three reasons:

  • Improvements make innovators happy and devices modern.
  • Pioneers and the early majority can immediately acquire a new model and potentially save money if the release time coincided with the extension / end of the contract.
  • Later, most can save money by buying a previous generation model.

In addition, Apple's strategy spurs frequent updates . The release of new models and versions of the OS forces developers to work on the code and optimize applications to run on fresh hardware and software. Users with older models receive less benefit from the updated app. This is another reason to switch to new generations of iPhone.

Apple has already reached market saturation. Devices like Samsung Galaxy S and others have taken the iPhone’s share. Growing competition in a once completely new market is a feature of wide diffusion. Apple is trying to deal with this by creating tablets and smart watches.

One thing is certain: Apple understands how diffusion of innovation works and how to adapt to different types of users.


In the first article on diffusion of innovation, we described users and the adoption process. Using these factors in marketing and research will greatly improve the way your product is perceived. Not every development will be an iPhone success, but any company can learn from Apple's diffusion of innovation.

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