University homepage Suomeksi På svenska In English
University of Helsinki Faculty of Behavioural Sciences

Department of Education


Contact information:

Siltavuorenpenger 20 R
P.O. Box 9
00014 University of Helsinki
Tel. +358 9 191 20555
Fax  +358 9 191 20561  

Sampsa Hyysalo
Wristcare in the Practices of Engineers and Elderly

2004; 253 pp.
Price 30 €
ISBN 952-10-1622-1

University of Helsinki
Department of Education

Helsinki University Press

Sampsa Hyysalo


New technology has a strong association with visions of the future. But even the success stories seldom turn out the way they were first conceived. We do not fly personal helicopters, nor do our offices resemble the uniform and clean deck of Starship Enterprise. It seems that whatever technology is introduced, its eventual patterns of usage blend with previous practices and technologies. It is often precisely the modification-in-use that paves the way for the success of the successful ones.

This study focuses on the processes that are urgent in preparing for the use of new technology, and pose continuous problems for organizations that develop or use technology. The particular setting studied is the development of a new health and social care technology, Wristcare, since its inception in the early 1990s to the proliferation of its second generation in 2003. Emphasis is on “visible handshakes,” moments in the development of the innovation where designer-user relations are accentuated.

Methodologically, the study is a longitudinal analysis of the development of the interactions and learning between designers and users. It combines historical and ethnographical methods in its four-year data-collection, as well as in their analysis. Conceptually, the study draws from, and contributes primarily to, the tradition of the social shaping of technology, but also engages in discussions with innovation studies and the management of technology. Activity theory is employed as the most important theoretical framework organizing the analysis.

The findings of the study address four long-standing concerns in designer-user relations: 1) the role of professional traditions in providing designers with assumptions about the prospective use, and mechanisms how they do so; 2) the adequacy of different methods (market surveys, design study, pilot use) in anticipating prospective use of a new technology; 3) how users appropriate and shape technology at work and during their free time, including both the analysis of individual and collective aspects of such shaping; 4) the advantages, challenges, and tensions associated with coordinated improvement of technology between designers and users.

These specific discussions are further elaborated and linked together by developing an empirically grounded theoretical model of the shaping of technology during its early development by its designers and users. While elaborating on the research interests and conceptual themes, the study also offers a detailed description of the development of an innovative product in a small high-tech firm, as well as of the implementation and appropriation of technology in nursing homes for the elderly.

Keywords: Design, use, designer-user relations, technological innovation, social shaping of technology, activity theory, learning, interaction

Publications >>