Co-design (collaborative design) is a term to define a process of designing in which all design-related parties (designers, architects, engineers and sometimes clients) work together to achieve a shared design goal. They work together on a design artefact or on parts of a design artefact. Similar to an individual’s mental process, the co-design process includes establishing shared goals and developing a shared understanding of a design brief, searching through design precedents for inspiration, defining design constraints, framing and examining design problems, and the materialization of a design solution. With the recent developments in communication and information technologies and with the extensive use of these digital tools in design practice, co-design activity can take place in remote locations through computer-mediated design environments (CMDE). In terms of establishing an effective co-design situation in CMDEs, verbal and visual communication, particularly design communication between designers or architects, becomes very essential.
In a “co-located” situation, architects or designers are located in the same room, thus verbal and visual communication between parties would naturally occur. Conversely, in a remote situation, communications and design activity must be supported by technology. In remote collaboration, the verbal communication that is considered critical for the quality of the outcome occur over several design platforms – such as remote sketching, 3D modeling, 3D virtual worlds, etc – and communications channels – such as text, audio and video (Chiu, 2002; Valkenburg, 2000, Gabriel, 2000, Vera et al., 1998, Wong and Kvan 1999). Such design platforms and communication channels should be selected on the basis of the nature of those considered the most effective for the phase and task of a design project. A study illustrated that audio and interactive text are more important than videos on the faces of the partners in the video channel (Wong and Kvan, 1999). Video channels would become significant to resolve the issues when there is a conflict or misunderstanding between the parties. Another study demonstrated that remote sketching and 3D modeling platforms support different stages and types of co-design behavior (Gül, 2007). In general, working in CMDEs encourages designers to immediately construct a design artefact faster, demonstrating a vertical transformation of solution-moves when developing a particular design idea in detail (Gül, 2007).
Another essential topic in co-design is the effectiveness of visual communication during remote designing in terms of both “shared representations” and a shared workspace. The term shared representation covers all types of external representations that architects and designers rely on for communicating design ideas to themselves and others – through at variety of sketches, physical and digital models, diagrams, graphs and notations. In a co-design situation, external design representations play a significant role as communicative resources that are the objects of interaction (Robertson, 1996). When design thoughts are externalized through objects, each object contains properties of future interpretations that designers can negotiate during further design development. Objects that can be pointed to, talked about or sketched on (Perrya and Sanderson, 1998) play an important role both in a conversation with oneself and with others. Most importantly, these external representations become the ground on which conflicts and collaboration take place. Arias et al. (2000) put forward that externalizations are especially important for co-design because they (1) create a record of mental efforts; one that is “outside us” rather than simply vaguely in the memory, and (2) represent artefacts that can talk back to us. CMDEs must provide a platform where architects and designers could externalize their ideas seamlessly without creating any extra cognitive load.
Studies have shown that in a co-design situation, designers and architects work together on the same part of a design representation all the time or they separate and work on small parts of it individually based on their expertise, yet they still retain a collaborative negotiation and evaluation process (Kvan, 1997, Gül and Maher, 2009). During co-design, designers and architects want to monitor and become aware of each others’ activities. Being unaware of others’ activities would break the flow of co-designing. In co-design, workspace awareness is considered important for two reasons: (1) the amount of power it provides to the user, and (2) its degree of visibility to the rest of the group in a collaborative work (Gutwin and Greenberg, 1998). The support of workspace awareness can be archived in two ways: “consequential communication” and “feed-through”. In consequential communication, the characteristic movements of an action communicate its character and content to others (Segal, 1995), whereas in feed-through, the feedback produced when artifacts are manipulated provides others with clues about that manipulation (Dix et al., 1993). Thus, CMDEs must provide some reliable clues to collaborators about the actions and behaviors of others.
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