Cognitive Challenges for Teamwork in Design

Cognitive Challenges for Teamwork in Design

Ju Hyun Lee (The University of Newcastle, Australia), Michael J. Ostwald (The University of Newcastle, Australia) and Ning Gu (University of South Australia, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0726-0.ch003


This chapter combines experimental data and established design theory to examine four issues associated with design cognition that contribute to an improved understanding of creativity and teamwork in design. Drawing on data developed from two parametric design experiments undertaken by the authors, this chapter investigates the implications of (i) cognitive space, (ii) design strategy, (iii) design productivity and (iv) spatial representation, for individuals, and by inference, for groups and educators. Through this process the chapter develops a deeper understanding of the cognitive challenges facing design teams and educators of those teams.
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A design team is, by definition, made up of a group of individuals, working with either a singular vision, or in a managed way, to produce an outcome that draws on the strengths and abilities of each member. Whereas many linear or controlled tasks, even complex ones, can be undertaken by teams with a reasonable level of consistency and transparency, the design process is not such a task. Design involves multiple, simultaneous activities and processes, some of which are learnt and are seemingly well documented and understood, while others are more intuitive, contingent and subliminal. Problematically, design is largely an internalized cognitive system, involving conceptual, creative and strategic thought processes, which are not always clear, even to the designer. However, the real difficulty arises when these processes must be communicated to others, either verbally or using some means of representation (drawings and models). In combination, these factors make the process of designing in a team, and of teaching people to design in teams, a difficult one.

Under normal circumstances, one solution to improving this situation would be to conduct detailed empirical observations of the team design process and develop lessons from this research to support people to learn relevant skills and abilities. However, despite extensive empirical research into the actions of individual designers, equivalent cognitive research into team-processes in design is rare, and results tend to be difficult to generalize (Stempfle & Badke-Schaub, 2002). Furthermore, there are also two distinct impediments to producing useful research into team design processes. First, researchers have demonstrated that there are significant communication barriers, both linguistic and cognitive, in the design process, which complicate any empirical approach to the topic (Valkenburg & Dorst, 1998). Second, the environment in which the design process occurs—the creative and communicative platform, media or system—also has an impact on the way people work (Visser, 1993; Bilda & Demirkan, 2003). Given the paucity of research into the cognitive processes that occur in design teams, and the difficulty of overcoming these two challenges of language and environment, an alternative approach to this issue is needed. One such alternative is to examine the findings of past empirical research into the way individuals design, and consider what these studies might imply for teamwork and education. Furthermore, should these results take into account individual differences in terms of linguistic barriers and use an environmental setting for their experiments that is optimized for teamwork, then the results from individuals could provide a useful catalyst for thinking about the cognitive aspects of designing in teams.

This is the approach taken in the present chapter, which reviews the results of past experimental research undertaken by the authors to consider the significance of their findings for design teams. The data used in the chapter are derived from selected patterns of design cognition presented by individuals, but which have deeper implications for teams and for educators. The data have been developed from two small but detailed protocol studies of the actions and thoughts of designers who are working towards solutions to a project brief. Importantly, both studies were undertaken using parametric environments as a common testing platform. This is significant because even though the studies were of individuals, such environments are optimized for team processes and to enable the development of a Computer Supported Collaborative Workplace (CSCW) (Cross & Clayburn Cross, 1995; Grudin, 1994; Ibrahim & Rahimian, 2010). Indeed, a critical aspect of design in parametric environments is its capacity to facilitate the sharing and managing of design information in a way which previous design environments have been unable to achieve (Lawson, 1980; Kolarevic, 2003). In contrast, advanced parametric applications—like Grasshopper, CATIA and Generative Components—support parallel processes, allowing multiple people to work together, sharing coding and visualization roles to solve design problems (Holzer, Hough, & Burry, 2007). The other important factor which allows the results of these past studies to be usefully generalized for consideration in teams, is that one of the studies focuses on linguistic issues. That study, the last presented in this chapter, is explicitly concerned with the way language affects cognition and communication in design.

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