Web-based co-design: Social media tools to enhance user-centred design and innovation processes: Dissertation

Pirjo Friedrich

Research output: ThesisDissertationCollection of Articles


User involvement is generally regarded to be useful in information systems design. However, when designing online services for consumers, it may be difficult to reach the potential users and involve them in iterative development processes. Social media provides new possibilities for interacting with users on a daily basis, since it has become a natural method of communication for many people. The aim of this thesis is to study how social media tools can be used to support user participation in the design and innovation processes, and how social media affects the elements of user participation. Theoretically the thesis is based on user-centred design, participatory design and user-driven innovation. By combining these three approaches, the research resulted in tools and methods for web-based co-design that were implemented as the Owela (Open Web Lab) workspace. It consists of blog-based discussion tools, user diaries, chat, questionnaires and polls that can be combined for different innovation and design purposes. This thesis presents results from six case studies in which consumers participated in web-based co-design throughout the innovation process or in some phases of it. Social media tools proved to be most useful in the early exploration and ideation, which were inspiring and meaningful activities for the users as well. During the concept design, a lot of users can be cost-efficiently involved in evaluation and development of the concepts. Shared user diaries and real-time chat sessions can be used for collecting quick user feedback from the real use context during iterative software prototyping. Web-based tools do not substitute face-to-face methods, but complement them by enabling more constant interaction with users and lowering certain users' participation thresholds. Via online tools, users can participate whenever they have time to do so. Transparency of the design process helps users to see their impact on the final product or service. Interestingly, participation in the process as such can be a rewarding experience for the users, if it offers a channel to be heard and express their own creativity. However, individual contributions in social media tend to be small and occasional, or really active people may come to dominate the co-design process. Online communication skills affect users' abilities to express themselves, and participants cannot take the backgrounds of anonymous users' into account when interpreting other people's comments. If co-design has too open a goal and participants lack a common vision, users may become frustrated. Too big a task is not motivating for users who participate voluntarily. In web-based co-design, the boundaries of different participant groups get blurred. Users also become designers and may participate even in decision making, whereas designers become facilitators of the co-design process. The researchers' role is to provide users with light-weight tasks and guidelines that help them to analyse their own needs, as well as involving their friends in the design process. The facilitation requires a lot of time and resources for continuous participation and regular updates of the online workspace. Text-based tasks need to be clearly formulated, and various types of activities are necessary in order to motivate different kinds of people with different motivations.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor Degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Nieminen, Marko, Supervisor, External person
Award date19 Jun 2013
Place of PublicationEspoo
Print ISBNs978-951-38-8003-3
Electronic ISBNs978-951-38-8004-0
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • co-design
  • social media
  • user-centred design
  • participatory design
  • user innovation
  • online services
  • Owela


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