Articulating User Needs in Collaborative Design: Towards an Activity-Theoretical Approach

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This paper analyses the collaborative design ofa high-technology product, a neuromagnetometerused in the analysis of the activity of thehuman cortex. The producer, Neuromag Company istrying to transform the device from a basicresearch instrument into a means of clinicalpractice. This transition is analyzed as asimultaneous evolution of the product,producer-user network and user activities. Thenetwork is analyzed as a network of activitysystems. Each activity has a historicallyformed object and a motive of its own, as wellas a system of cultural means and expertise. Weuse these to explain and understand theinterests and points of view of the actors inrelation to the product and the contradictionsof the producer-user network. It is suggestedthat the emerging user needs of collectiveactors must be analyzed at three levels. At thefirst level, the use value of the product, itscapacity of solving the vital problems andchallenges of developing user activities, ischaracterized. The second-level analysisconcerns the creation and development of thenecessary complementary tools and services thatmake the implementation and use of the productpossible. This task presupposes collaborationbetween several communities of the innovationnetwork. The third level is the situatedpractical use of the product. In ourexperience, it is advantageous that researcherscontribute with their data to a dialogue inwhich the user needs are articulated.