Human-Centred Design When Direct Contact with Users Is Not Possible

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Developing technologies and technological innovations is difficult and technological innovations often fail. However, user involvement has had positive effects on system success and user satisfaction and can, therefore, clearly be seen to be valuable. For decades researchers and practitioners have developed ways to get user and customer input into product and service development and this has taken place under several different study fields, such as marketing, ergonomics, ethnography, participatory design, usability, human-centred design (HCD), user experience, service design, and science and technology studies. This dissertation focuses on HCD and inspects whether HCD can be practiced without direct contact with users and, if so, what are the practices applied. These situations are quite common in organisational settings, and they can occur due to several reasons, such as not having enough time or other resources, too strict confidentiality issues or the user group cannot be contacted. This research is based on a longitudinal case study at a Finnish industrial company that has been a forerunner in HCD. The research has been conducted during 2014–2019 through semi-structured interviews, meeting observations and inspected company documentation. The practices of HCD were viewed from the methods and user representations points of view. In addition, a more holistic perspective on the ways HCD was practiced without direct user contact and an analysis of the ecologies of user knowledge were provided. In the end it could be seen that HCD can be practiced responsibly without direct user contact in HCD-mature organisations. In an HCD-mature organisation, user knowledge is drawn from a variety of sources and gathered through various methods and method mixes, and it has accumulated during the history of each employee. In addition, organisations can have more specific resources, such as the in-house users employed by the case company, that can provide additional input to the design and testing phases. This research further contributes to efforts to aid in assessing whether an organisation is applying HCD and how design can be recognised as HCD although there is seemingly no user contact. In addition, it underscores the importance of studying the HCD practices in real-life environments and highlights the importance of conducting research at the crossing of several research fields (here it was HCD, science and technology studies, and design and innovation research). In conclusion, the research results provide guidance for practicing HCD when direct contact with users is not possible.
Translated title of the contributionIhmiskeskeinen suunnittelu, kun suora yhteys käyttäjiin ei ole mahdollista
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Hyysalo, Sampsa, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0350-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0351-9
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • human-centred design
  • design research
  • user research


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