How Social Media Changes User-Centred Design - Cumulative and Strategic User Involvement with Respect to Developer–User Social Distance

Mikael Johnson

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    The aim of user-centred, participatory, and lead-user design approaches is to raise the quality of products and services through methods that aid developers in user involvement. In the lite-rature, the design context is often assumed to be 'one-off projects', which limits the applicabi-lity of the guidelines for further service design after market launch. Other challenges concern-ing social media include ambiguities in the role of informal engagement, the abstraction pro-cesses between millions of users and working user categories, and criteria for involving users. This study investigated user involvement strategies and practices in the construction of a so-cial media service. The research questions were (1) how do users' actions in and around social media shape its design after market launch, (2) how do social media developers' user involve-ment practices evolve over time, and (3) how does user categorisation change with social me-dia? This thesis adopted an exploratory case study approach and the data was collected during 2003–2010. While the study is grounded in usability research and human–computer interac-tion, the theoretical and methodological framework leaned on science and technology studies. The site of investigation was one of the world's largest social game and online communities for teenagers, Habbo Hotel, operated by Sulake Corporation. The data was gathered from devel-opers and users through a multi-method approach, using traditional qualitative and quantita-tive methods as well as online data sources. While this study offers unique insight into the in-teraction between a particular social media company and its users, the implications go beyond the studied target group and games to social media in general. The key findings demonstrate how collaboration and feedback loops between developers and users change over time. In particular, this study highlights the effects of changes in the target group, the broad variety of applied user involvement methods, rhythms in development, and users' contributions after market launch. The author developed two concepts, 'developer–user social distance' and 'content creation capacity', to help designers and researchers communicate previously neglected dimensions of user involvement. Results from analysis of the accumula-tion of user knowledge in the development organisation criticise assumptions in the literature on when and how designers categorise users as well as the functions of these user categories in the design process. The results further suggest that guidelines and other advice on user involve-ment should be uncoupled from the assumption of stable and orderly project phases. This case contributes to user-centred design guidelines, process guidance for user involvement, and re-search on social media development and developer–user collaboration.
    Translated title of the contributionHow Social Media ChangesUser-Centred Design - Cumulative and Strategic User Involvement with Respect to Developer–User Social Distance
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Nieminen, Marko, Supervising Professor
    • Turpeinen, Marko, Thesis Advisor
    • Hyysalo, Sampsa, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-5072-0
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5073-7
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • user-centred design
    • strategic user involvement
    • participatory design
    • user innovations
    • social media
    • virtual worlds


    Dive into the research topics of 'How Social Media Changes User-Centred Design - Cumulative and Strategic User Involvement with Respect to Developer–User Social Distance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this