As a psychology student, Kujala was interested in human behaviour, but she was never very keen on mental health work and decided to pursue a career in research instead. She started her career at the University of Helsinki but, soon, she transferred to the Helsinki University of Technology (which was incorporated into Aalto University) where she did her doctoral studies in human-computer interaction and defended her doctoral dissertation in 2002.
‘I was slightly frustrated as a research psychologist. I studied cognitive psychology that is very theoretical basic research. It felt really good to be able to put knowledge about humans into practice.’
As a researcher, Kujala enjoys the fact that she has freedom and room for creativity. ‘It is rewarding to not just do something but instead come up with new ideas and develop new kinds of thoughts.’
Although Kujala spent five years as a professor of psychology at the Tampere University of Technology, Aalto University and its predecessor have been her workplaces for nearly two decades.
‘I’ve had good cooperation with Marjo Kauppinen (Professor of Practice in Software Engineering). We’ve worked on how users’ needs should be taken into account in software development,’ explains Kujala.
Take users along to design new services
In Finland, an enormous number of new digital health and welfare services will be launched in the coming years. This means that both clinicians and patients will need to be able to take in a lot of new information. If researchers and developers ignore users’ needs, the good intentions of improving the availability of services may actually turn upside-down, and digital services may increase social exclusion. DigiIN project researchers want to ensure that this does not happen.
The idea for the DigiIN project was born during a previous project called COPE, which was associated with the social welfare and healthcare reform. The National Institute for Health and Welfare coordinated COPE and Kujala was involved with it as well.
For COPE, researchers did a questionnaire for social welfare and healthcare professionals and they found out that only about 30% of the professionals thought that their clients are able and willing to use new digital services. Moreover, the patients who participated in the project were worried about older people’s abilities to use such new services.
According to Kujala, designers and researchers still tend to forget to take users into consideration when they are designing new services. At the moment, professionals typically write information about illnesses for different patient groups, which often makes them difficult to read for normal people.
What is central in DigiIN is to understand what types of problems groups like elderly people and immigrants experience when they are using online services and take them along to test the new services and contents.
The researchers want to make sure that the new services facilitate professionals’ work and help to keep it meaningful, but also that they are useful and pleasant for non-professionals to use. This is important just for economic reasons. ‘As a state, we invest millions of euros in them,’ reminds Kujala.
Focusing on the long-term usability is important in designing elevators and axes, and according to Kujala, it is crucial in health care too. She says that health care expenses in Finland have almost doubled in the 21st century due to factors like aging. ‘If people just try out a service and then stop using it, we will not reach health benefits. I am interested in how we can motivate people to use these services.’