Volume 3(2), 2007-05, 127—153

Unscrambling the "average user" of Habbo Hotel

Mikael Johnson
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology
Helsinki University of Technology and University of Helsinki

The "user" is an ambiguous concept in human-computer interaction and information systems. Analyses of users as social actors, participants, or configured users delineate approaches to studying design-use relationships. Here, a developer's reference to a figure of speech, termed the "average user," is contrasted with design guidelines. The aim is to create an understanding about categorization practices in design through a case study about the virtual community, Habbo Hotel. A qualitative analysis highlighted not only the meaning of the "average user," but also the work that both the developer and the category contribute to this meaning. The average user a) represents the unknown, b) influences the boundaries of the target user groups, c) legitimizes the designer to disregard marginal user feedback, and d) keeps the design space open, thus allowing for creativity. The analysis shows how design and use are intertwined and highlights the developers' role in governing different users' interests.

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