Will Different Scales Impact on Design Collaboration in 3D Virtual Environments?

Will Different Scales Impact on Design Collaboration in 3D Virtual Environments?

Jerry Jen-Hung Tsai (University of Sydney, Australia), Jeff WT Kan (Taylor’s University, Malaysia), Xiangyu Wang (Curtin University, Australia) and Yingsiu Huang (Tunghai University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-180-1.ch011
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This chapter presents a study on the impact of design scales on collaborations in 3D virtual environments. Different domains require designers to work on different scales; for instance, urban design and electronic circuit design operate at very different scales. However, the understanding of the effects of scales upon collaboration in virtual environment is limited. In this chapter, the authors propose to use protocol analysis method to examine the differences between two design collaboration projects in virtual environments: one large scale, and another small scale within a similar domain. It shows that the difference in scale impacted more on communication control and social communication.
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Collaborative design is a process of dynamically communicating and working together in order to collectively establish design goals, search through design problem spaces, determine design constraints, and construct a design solution (Hennessy and Murphy, 1999; Lahti et al., 2004). Traditionally, face-to-face (FTF) manner is the most common way of designers’ communication in collaborations. However, it requires significant amount of time and financial investments on coordinating and relocating resources, which can often lead to additional costs and unexpected project delay. 3D virtual worlds combined with high-bandwidth network provide a way of design communication and collaboration by participants immersing into the same environment. It has shown great potentials for supporting synchronous and asynchronous multiple-time-zone and multiple-location design collaborations without the need of designers physical presenting for design collaboration. Currently, the majority of studies on design collaboration in virtual environments mainly focus on analysing collaborative design behaviours in virtual worlds (Gabriel and Maher, 2002; Maher et al., 2006a; Gul et al., 2008), seldom if any on the studies of collaborative design behaviours affected by different scales of design projects. Scale refers to the size or extent of something, especially when compared with something else (Hornby and Wehmeier, 2007). In a 3D environment, should the tools that support urban design collaborations be the same to that support interior design collaborations? A study of design collaboration behaviours in virtual environments related to design projects with different scales will help developers of 3D virtual worlds to further enhance tools for design collaborations in different scales.

In this chapter we assume human use different cognitive resources to handle different scale objects and this will affect the way they communicate and collaborate. We conjectured that the ability for human to observe the environment and to examine smaller objects is decoded by using different cognitive resources. It is further conjectured that the use of different cognitive resources to read the environment (large-scale) and to handle objects (small-scale) carries on in the 3D virtual environment. To give an example, when apple came out with QuickTime VR (also known as QuickTime Virtual Reality), it had two modes, a Panoramic mode and an Object mode. In the panoramic mode viewers look out to get a sense of place; while in the object mode, viewers look in toward the central object. Thus our notion of scale refers to the way human interacts with it rather than in a relative term. For example we can examine or appreciate a car as an object (small scale) by walking around the car to look in toward it in different angles, but we can also sit in the drivers’ seat and look out to appreciate the interior.

We propose to us protocol analysis as a tool to investigate the effects of scales upon 3D virtual collaborations. It is a rigorous methodology for eliciting verbal reports of thought sequences as a valid source of data on thinking. By analyzing the information expressed as verbalized thoughts, it is possible to assess the validity of the verbalized information (Ericsson and Simon, 1993). Protocol analysis had been used to study design collaboration (Gabriel and Maher, 2002).

Following our previous preliminary comparative study (Tsai et al., 2008), we focus on and present how the scale of design project (large and small) in 3D virtual environments affects the designers’ behaviours during the collaboration in this book chapter. The large-scale design project defined in this chapter is a design of a building which people can move within it. In contrast, the small-scale design project is defined as a design of furniture which people can manipulate it but cannot move within it. A studio and a workstation are designed in the large-scale design project and the small-scale design project respectively. Both of them are performed in the virtual environments in Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). A coding scheme derived from Gabriel and Maher (2002) and Suwa, Prucell and Gero (1998) as well as inspired by Gero (1990) is developed for protocol analysis to understand how designers collaborate in 3D virtual environments on their design projects.

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