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An organizational view of design

communication in design
Mao-Lin Chiu, Department of Architecture, National Cheng-Kung
University, Tainan 701, Taiwan
Design collaboration requires participation of individuals and
coordination of design information and tasks. Team organization is one
of the major tasks in design collaboration, because it can affect design
communication and performance. This paper provides a basic
understanding of the role of organization in design collaboration and
how it affects design communication and collaboration by empirical
case studies and design experiments. The results of case studies in
architectural practice and design studios and a process model of design
collaboration are presented. The study suggests that a structured
organization can facilitate design communication and consequently
contribute to the success of the design project. Computer supported
collaborative work requires managing design tasks as well as
information flows, and supporting three levels of communication,
including individual, group and project.
c 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Keywords: collaborative design, communication, computer supported
design, organization

ollaborative design is an activity that requires participation of individuals for sharing information and organizing design tasks and
resources. Particularly in a complex and large project, design often
involves multiple persons or groups collaborating in the design process.
The purpose of design collaboration is to share expertise, ideas, resources,
or responsibilities. Design communication is central to design development
in the process. The effectiveness of design communication becomes critical
for designers in sharing design information, in decision-making and coordinating design tasks.
During the last decade, design practice has changed due to globalization
and computerization. The use of computer technology in design practice
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PII: S0142-694X(01)00019-9
2002 Elsevier Science Ltd All rights reserved Printed in Great Britain


has established various distributed design environments1,2. Meanwhile, virtual design studios (VDS) have been constructed by many institutions
across the world exploiting new computing and communication technologies35. Team members can work in a distributed environment synchronously or asynchronously.

1 Chiu, M L The design guidance of CSCW: learning from

collaborative design studios in
Sasada, Yamaguchi, Moromuzi, Kaga and Homma (eds)
Proceedings of the Third International Conference of CAADRIA98, Osaka, Japan (1998)
2 Maher, M L, Simoff, S J and
Cicognani, A Observations
from an experimental study of
computer-mediated collaborative
design in Proceedings of IFIP97
conference, University of Sydney, Australia (1997) pp 165
3 Branko, K, Schmitt, G,
Hirschberg, U, Kurmann, D
and Johnson, B An experiment
in design collaboration Automation in Construction Vol 9
(2000) 7381
4 Kvan, T Collaborative
design: what is it? Automation in
Construction Vol 9 (2000) 409
5 Wojtowicz J (ed) Virtual
Design Studio, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong (1994)
6 Simoff, S J and Maher, M L
Analyzing participation in collaborative design environments
Design Studies Vol 21 (2000)
7 Morozumi, M, Shounai, Y,
Homma, R, Iki, K and Murakami, Y A group ware for asynchronous design communication
and project management, in Gu
and Wei (eds), Proceedings of
CAADRIA99, Shanghai, China
(1999) pp 171180
8 Kvan, T The pedagogy of virtual design studio Automation in
Construction Vol 10 (2001)


Previous studies have focused on issues of design collaboration including

the process, team works, the design settings, groupware, communication
patterns, and pedagogy68. However, these studies rarely focus onto the
importance of organization. This paper examines design collaboration from
an organizational view by reporting case studies of design projects in practice and design experiments in university design studios. The following
sections will address the organization view, the communication problems,
empirical case studies, experiments in collaborative design studios, and
issues related to design collaboration.

An organizational view of design collaboration

Architectural design is a project-oriented operation. Each design project

carries its goals or mission, thus creating its orientation for organizing
people to execute design activities, including design communication, problem solving, and documentation. Each person performs different tasks and
requires different design information. In order to achieve goals effectively,
design organization must exist, for example for the convenience of communication and solving specific design problems. In a large-scale project,
design teams can be organized differently and this will consequently affect
their communication patterns and behaviors. Therefore, this paper introduces an organizational approach to analyzing the design communication
in design collaboration. The motive of this paper is to understand: (1)
how people are organized in the collaborative process; (2) how design
organization affects the design communication; and (3) how computer supported systems can facilitate design collaboration.
Collaboration refers to a group of people working together to accomplish
an agreed task or address an agreed goal. Often this could not be
accomplished by an individual. Other terms such as cooperation have been
used in research in this field4. Collaboration implies a durable relationship
and a strong commitment to a common goal. Structured collaboration in
design collaboration refers to a team within a collaborative framework for
sharing the same goals. The obverse would be unstructured collaboration,
which is executed without shared goals, and requires minimally dependency among participants. To constrain the scope of discussion, this paper
focuses on structured collaboration. Two kinds of design context are studied; professional architecture practice and that in academic environments,

Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

Figure 1 Communication
conditions among multiple

9 Anderson, K E Communication theory Introduction to

Communication Theory and
Practice Cummings (1972) pp
10 Shannon, C E and Weaver,
W The Mathematical Theory of
Communication University of Illinois, Illinois (1963)
11 Smith, M Communication
behavior Proceedings of the
American Philosophical Society
Vol 10 (1948) 371
12 Chiu, M L Case studies of
international collaborative design
projects in Taiwan, A technical
report to National Science Council, Taipei (1996)
13 Chiu, M L Collaborative
design in CAAD studios: shared
ideas, resources, and representations, in Tan and Yeh (eds)
Proceedings of International
Conference on CAAD Future 95,
Singapore (1995) pp 749759
14 Jeng, T S Towards a process-centric, asynchronous collaborative design environment in
Tan B K, Tan M and Wong Y C
(eds) Proceedings of CAADRIA
2000, Singapore (2000) pp 15
15 Peng, C Exploring communication
design: cooperative architectural
modelling Design Studies Vol 15
(1994) 1944

to understand the information flow in design collaboration, and how the

design communication is related to its organization.
Meanwhile, computer supported systems enable the possibility of design
collaboration in a distributed environment. It is critical to understand how
computers can support collaborative design in a distributed environment.
We have to examine the typical communication problems to clarify the
role of technology and organization in communication.

Communication problems in design collaboration

Human communication is a dynamic process in which one person consciously or unconsciously affects the cognition of another through materials
or agencies in symbolic ways. Researchers of organizational behaviour and
management science have established a series of communication theories9
. When computer and telecommunication technologies were deployed in
design offices or studios, the use of communication channels increased.
Figure 1 demonstrates the communication conditions among multiple persons in a distributed design environment, including cognition, transmission,
and representation13.
Communication requires both a sender and a receiver. The necessity of
communication is due to the possibility of different cognition of representations by different participants as well as conveying new information.

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


However, typical communication problems in design collaboration have

been observed in previous studies by the author1,13,16 as follows:
(1) The media problem: design information needs to be conveyed, and the
communication problem is related to how to transmit communication
symbols precisely.
(2) The semantic problem: the purpose of communication is the accurate
conveying of information. The problem is how to let transmitted symbols carry their original meaning without interference from noise.
(3) The performance problem: the problem is related to how to effectively
receive meaning in messages and influence behavior as the sender
(4) The organizational problem: to reach the right persons for sharing
expertise or ideas, design information has to pass throughout the hierarchy of an organization. The complexity of transmission is related to
the scale of distribution.
The last problem is far more critical to design collaboration in a large
project than the others. The transmission between two persons is easy,
particularly by face-to-face contacts, but the transmission among multiple
persons or between two groups requires coordination and management of
information flows. When more persons or groups are involved, the communications become more complicated. Therefore, people are organized
for the convenience and effectiveness of communication.
If collaborative design can benefit from improvements in communication
media, then the use of computers in supporting collaborative works should
provide multiple communication channels and better interfaces for encoding and decoding representations. Therefore, design information can be
distributed and shared by individuals or groups.
When computers are employed in design offices and studios, it is critical
to understand how people interact with the environment in the process, and
the issues include: (1) the process and communication media; (2) design
organization; and (3) the information flow. These are explored in the following sections.

Case studies of design collaboration in

architectural practice


Chiu, M L, Yamaguchi, S
and Morozumi, M Supporting
collaborative design studios
scenarios and tools, in Gero J,
Chase S and Rosenman M
(eds) Proceedings of CAADRIA
2001, Sydney, Australia (2001)
pp 125134


During the last decade, there have been a growing number of collaborative
design projects undertaken jointly by foreign architects and local architects
in Taiwan12. This section summarizes four collaborative design case studies
of how designers work in a distributed environment. Each sub-section has
its own emphasis on process, organization and information.

Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002


The process and communication media

The study first selected four cases that required international design collaboration, interviewed the key persons in each project, and collected and
analyzed data transmission, including the files, fax and drawings, in the
early design phases. Table 1 summarizes the participants, the work relationship, major human contacts, and data communication channels of these
four cases: the Fubon Financial Center; the Exhibition Center of Hsintsu Science Park; the Tzung-Tang Hotel/Office Tower; and the Taiwan
Prehistoric Culture Museum.
In all the above cases, the participants were located on two sides of the
Pacific Ocean. For example, in the second case, the Exhibition Center of
Hsin-tsu Science Park, the local architect (Hsih Yi-Jung Architect and
Associates) is located in Hsin-tsu, Taiwan and the design architect (TAC)
is located in San Francisco, USA. The main motive for collaboration is
the know-how transfer, particularly the architectural programming and conceptual design.
Table 1 Summary of four collaborative design cases

Project Name Location


Work Relationship Human Contacts


1. Fubon Financial Center, ArtTech Architects Vertically defining 1. Telephone

and Assoc.
job scope
2. Fax
(Taipei)/SOM (Los
3. Face to face
Angles, USA)
(periodic meetings)
2. Exhibition Center of
Hsin-tsu Science Park,

3. Tze-Tang Hotel/Office
Tower, Taichung

4. Taiwan Prehistoric
Culture Museum, Taitung

1. Different CAD
2. Exchange of
Vertically defining 1. Telephone
1. Same CAD
job scope
2. Fax
system (AutoCAD)
3. Face to face
2. Exchanges of
(periodic meetings) printouts

Hsih Yi-Jung
Architect and
Assoc. (Hsintsu)/TAC (San
Francisco, USA)
Chang and Jen
Vertically defining 1. Telephone
Architects and
job scope
2. Fax
3. Face to face
(residence on site)
(New York, USA)
Haigo Shen and
Associates, Inc.
Grave (NYC,
(Boston, USA)

1. Same CAD
2. Exchange of
drawing files by
Both firms jointly 1. Telephone
1. Same CAD
design in a parallel 2. Fax
3. E-mail
4. Face to face
2. Same layers
(periodic meetings) settings
5. Video3. Exchange of
drawing files
through Internet

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


The design process generally consists of five stages, including architectural

program, schematic design (SD), design development (DD), construction
documentation (CD), and construction. This study particularly focuses on
the early design phases, wherein many of the most important decisions are
made and collaboration is most important. The activities of client briefing,
data collection, architectural program formulation, and schematic design
are critical to the evolution and quality of the final design.
In terms of work relationship, participants of collaborative design often
define the job scope vertically or horizontally. In vertical definition of job
scope, a design architect is often in charge of schematic design and design
development, and a local architect (architect of record) is in charge of
working drawings and supervision of construction. In collaborative design,
vertical subdivision of work is easier than horizontal subdivision that
requires more participation and communication and may result in better
performance in design. In the early phase, design architects and designers
may shift their work locally to get familiar with their partners and operations.
Besides necessary face-to-face contacts, the primary human communications depend on telephone and fax. In a distributed environment, people
prefer communication within a small group, while many people may be
involved in the overall process. Interviews with designers not only indicated the growth of remote collaboration and communication, but also
emphasized the importance of face-to-face contacts. The primary limitation
of telephone, faxes, and electronic mail is a lack of interaction. In the early
design phases, design communication can benefit from computer supports.
The potential use of videoconferencing or desktop conferencing is promising for design presentation while the speed is the major obstacle. Desktop
videoconferencing is only used in small group discussions.
In terms of data communication, the major problems are file transfers and
communications between different computer-aided design (CAD) systems.
Design communication often requires a great deal of time in data preparation, transmission, and takes even longer if the CAD drawings are not
standardized and need conversion. Reuse of digital design information is
critical to the effectiveness of communication. Since the studied architect
firms are all using CAD systems for producing working drawings, the traditional blueprints and documents are replaced by digital files and CAD
printouts. The Internet is increasingly used for file exchanges. At the beginning of collaboration, some architects even set the drafting standards such
as CAD layers or file names to overcome file transfer problems. While
technologies can improve the communication performance, the nature of
design contents and operations remain the same.


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002


The organization

Table 2 demonstrates the team organization of the four cases. Typically,

each architectural firm has their supporting groups or consultants. The
Table 2 Team organizations of four collaborative design cases


Team Organization

1. Fubon Financial
Center, 19931995,

2. Exhibition Center of
Hsin-Tsu Science Park,
19931996, Hsin-tsu

3. Tzung-Tang Hoteloffice tower, 19941998

4. Taiwan, Prehistoric
Culture Museum, 1994

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Figure 2 The design organization in the mesh and star


larger the scale of project, the more organization becomes hierarchical. It

is necessary and useful to break a large group into smaller groups for
facilitating design communication. Generally, the project managers of each
architectural firm control the design information flow, coordinate the design
tasks, and distribute information to individuals.
For example, in the first project, the Fubon Financial Center, both groups
in Taipei and Los Angels have at least four consultants or subgroups. Each
group has a project manager who coordinates the schedule, design tasks,
and decision-making. Communications are undertaken horizontally and
vertically among groups, and then design information is documented, distributed and verified. It is found that the time lag (16 h), language (English
and Chinese) or cultural differences of two main offices does not contribute
obstacles of communication, while defining and coordinating design tasks
require management skills as well as leadership. As the project proceeds,
more persons are involved and the distribution of design information
becomes larger and longer. Occasionally, the organization is restructured
in accordance with the new functional needs, and it is difficult to trace the
status of design reviews and feedbacks.
Two types of team organization are typically found in practice, i.e. mesh
and star, as shown in Figure 2. In either type, the project manager could
coordinate and control the information flow. While the scale and type of
project may determine the level of communication, both types are often
used simultaneously among groups or within groups.


The information flow

Architectural design practice is a project-oriented operation. There are several dependency relationships among group members, including data,
task/process, and temporal dependencies14. The data dependencies are created to specify the basic information such as spatial dimension or materials.
Task or process dependencies determine the sequence of information
occurrence. It was found in the studied cases that organizations are gener-


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

Figure 3 Sample fax transmissions of the Fubon Financial Center

ally formed based on task dependency, and task dependency creates data
dependency. It was also found that communication typically occurred at
the same time among individuals, groups, or projects because tasks are
often overlapped in practice.
There are multiple individual workspaces, which are physically and/or
functionally separated from a group workspace. Group and individual
spaces are constructed to hold the creations and modifications of common
images and domain design expressions, respectively. It is important to
know how generic design information in group space or global workspace
is presented and shared by individuals.
In the Fubon Financial Center, designers used faxes to transmit design
information for discussing or confirming design alternatives. The design
process is cyclic as many researchers reported15. New design information
is added along the design process for refining or redirecting design, and
consequently reducing the search space until the final solution. A cyclic
process of design communication is evidenced by particular themes. Figure
3 demonstrates that orthographic drawings and working drawings with

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


notations were used for discussing the details of facade during the construction documentation (CD) stage. Each transmission was indexed, and a serial number was marked. For example, CD-ASK-50 means the design
architect inquired confirmation of detail of facade in the 50th transmission.
In this manner, receivers can keep track of the themes and status of discussion. Furthermore, project managers sent progress reports and memoranda were sent to key persons.
A questionnaire was given to the key persons in the studied cases regarding
their experiences in design communication, including: (1) purposes for
communication; (2) time spent on communication; (3) persons involved in
communication; (4) design communication frequency; (5) design representation in communication; and (6) computer supported systems. The feedback from 20 persons was collected and analyzed. The findings are as follows:
(1) Purposes for communication: as estimated by these local architectural
firms, 78% of communication was related to solving design problems,
while 21% of communication was related to defining the design problems. Sixty four percent of persons considered that ineffective feedback was caused by unclear design information or messages, that
required further explanation or retransmission.
(2) Time spent on communication: on average, 40% of the project time
was spent on communication, while 50% of time was spent on drafting
and design, and 10% of the project time was spent on other tasks. The
effectiveness of design communication becomes critical for designers
to share design information for decision-making and coordinating
design tasks.
(3) Individual versus group communication: communication occurred
among both individuals and groups. The number of people typically
involved in communication is varied from two to four, and each person
may represent a design group or office. However, the communication
was usually narrowed down to the minimum number of people. When
the organization is more hierarchical, less people are involved in communication.
(4) Design communication frequency: as estimated, the frequency of communication varied in response to the type and scale of projects. Internal
communication was more frequent than external communication
because of the convenience of location or schedule. Within the same
group, the frequency of internal communication was about once per
13 days. Within different groups, the external communication was
normally at least once a week.
(5) Design representation in communication: it was found that the major
design representations in asynchronous communication included out-


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

line of verbal description, sketches, orthographic drawings, tables, and

photographs. In synchronous communication, persons preferred the use
of visual presentation plus oral explanation.
(6) Computer supported systems: most participants preferred the system
should be simple and easy to use, and need message posting or project
briefing to situate them or co-members in the process.
Looking at the above collaborative design cases, important conditions for
communication are observed: (1) three kinds of communication should be
considered, including human, data, and network; (2) there are different
levels of communication in terms of individual, group, and project; (3) the
participation and conditions for coordination among individual members
of a design team are critical for communication and representations, and
design task dependency defines data dependency and the information flow;
(4) the communication usually occurred among the smallest number of
people in design organization; and (5) common goals are shared by all
participants and the process in design communication is cyclic until goals
are achieved.
The following section continues the investigation of design collaboration
in the collaborative design studios.

Design experiments in collaborative design studios

A VDS comprises of a team of designers who collaborate via electronic

communication in a distributed environment. Several institutions can participate in the studio project, where the students work on a site selected
by their own studio instructors and provide resources to students at other
institutions involved in the project5. While the collaborative approach is
similar, each collaborative design project has its unique settings and foci.
Collaborative design studio (CDS) is held in a similar platform as VDS,
but the focus is the methodology of design collaboration. In parallel to the
empirical studies in practice, the purpose of design experiments was to
examine how the communication related to its organization in CDS.


The process and communication media

The CDS brings up the issues of where, when, and how design can take
place, while the conventional design studio is more concerned about what
is design, and who is doing design. Four graduate-level design studios,
namely CDS95, CDS96, CDS97 and CDS2000, were studied as shown
in Table 3. These design experiments were undertaken from 1995 to 2000
in several locations and thus create different distributed organizations.
There is a shift from conventional communication and drawing tools to
computer media. All groups in CDS communicated either asynchronously

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Table 3 Comparison of collaborative design studios

Studio Name


Work Relationships Human Contacts


CDS95, 1995 Spring

Eight groups from

two institutions
located at two
cities (Taipei,
Six groups from
two institutions
located at two
cities (Taipei,
Seven groups from
one institution
located at the same
city (Tainan)
Five groups from
three institutions
located at three
cities (Tainan,
Kyoto, Kumamoto)

Six design groups

jointly design in a
parallel process,
and two supporting
All groups jointly
design in a parallel

1. Different CAD
2. Exchange of
1. Different CAD
2. Exchange of
1. Same CAD
system (AutoCAD)
2. Exchange of
1. Different CAD
2. Exchange of

CDS96, 1996, Fall

CDS97, 1997, Fall

CDS2000, 2000, Spring

1. Telephone
2. Fax
3. E-mail
4. Desktop
1. E-mail
2. Desktop

All groups jointly 1. E-mail

design in a parallel 2. Desktop
All groups jointly 1. E-mail
design in a parallel 2. Desktop
3. Video

or synchronously. The world wide web (WWW), whiteboard, e-mail, or

video-conferencing systems are often used in communications. The web
provides the platform for representing and storing all design information,
and supports the asynchronous activities among the participants through
access to various design information. The synchronous collaboration is
supported through video conferencing facilities, shared whiteboard, and
shared CAD systems.
For example, in CDS95, a 2-month design studio for a housing project
was held in 1995, and eight teams were organized by participants from
two institutions located at two cities (Taipei and Tainan). These teams
consisted of six design teams and two supporting teams, and each team
consisted of two to three persons. In terms of work relationship, these
teams jointly worked or designed in a parallel process, that is, to participate
the process simultaneously and deal with similar design tasks. Each team
relied on shared design information on the Internet, while design information was generated locally. The human contact relied on conventional
media due to limited facilities and technical supports. While both sides
used CAD systems, the data communication was assisted manually by
exchanging files and printouts due to the conversion among different
CAD systems.


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

In CDS2000, a 6-week design studio for an earthquake museum project

was held in 2000, in three academic institutions: National Cheng Kung
University (NCKU, Taiwan); Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT, Japan);
and Kumamoto University (KU, Japan). Twenty students were organized
into five groups. The objective of CDS00 was to understand the design
interactions of collaboration, the use of web-based groupware, and the iteration of design16.
Similarly, in CDS2000, the web site was used as the repository of design
information. The process as well as design iterations were also documented
in the web. Three institutions agreed to use English in verbal and text
communication, while graphic presentation remained critical to communication. Meanwhile, dealing with dynamic team structure required both
synchronous and asynchronous communication at different levels, such as
individual, team, and project levels. Synchronous and asynchronous communication was applied respectively in the process, and each served different functions. In synchronous communication, all three sites installed 128K
ISDN and video-conferencing facilities. Once a week, there was a group
meeting for progress reports by two simultaneous bi-lateral video-conferencing. MS-Netmeeting with internet cameras was also used in a small
group, aided by whiteboard. This kind of communication enhances the
understanding of how collaborative design work. Particularly, the social
interaction by face-to-face contact is important for understanding the personality. Asynchronous communication was used frequently at the individual and team level. Normally, team members often browsed the web pages
after images and drawings were transmitted by ftp, and discussed the progress of projects by both sides on the text mode, or simply by e-mail.
Furthermore, developing convenient tools to support messages broadcasting and desktop publishing has become necessary for collaborative design7.
The groupware is not only to document design development but also indicate the status of each individual involved in the process. Three institutions
took different approaches to develop web-based systems for managing
design information and the process16. These groupware or tools were also
useful for analyzing the communication in the process.


The organization

Team organization is one of the major tasks in design collaboration,

because it can affect design communication and performance. As shown
in Table 4, CDS95, CDS96, CDS97, and CDS2000 had different organization modes, team structure, and site assignment. This study applied two
modes of team organization to enhance collaboration and communication,
that is, the task-oriented mode and the theme-oriented mode. Both modes

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Table 4 Comparison of the approaches in four CDS


Organization Mode

CDS95 Housing Project

Task-oriented mode

Team Structure

Site Assignment

CDS96 Dormitory Project Task-oriented mode

CDS97 Community Project Theme-oriented mode

CDS00 Museum Project

Task-oriented mode

were carried out in these studios respectively to serve different functions,

that is, problem-solving and exploration. The design experiments considered the arrangement of team organization and the site in order to study
the relation between the information flow and organization. Participants
were requested to document the process and design activities for further
In CDS95, six design teams were organized from two institutions, and
these teams were asked to submit a design proposal, and the feasible one
was used as the master plan. During the process, six teams reached the
consensus of general design concepts. Each team was assigned to an individual site for further development. The design interfaces among each team
caused the necessity for communication. One team responded for continuously developing the master plan and facilitating design communication to
solving interface problems.


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

In CDS96, six teams were organized from two institutions based on task
requirements and job coordination, and each site was assigned to two teams
to study different approaches at the same site. The purpose of CDS96 was
to analyze the interaction among team members. Apparently, the operations
in CDS96 were more complex than CDS95.
In CDS97, key design issues were first identified, and seven teams were
organized based on common interests to address these key issues in the
community project. Color codes were used to represent these issues, such
as red (energy resources), orange (building technology), yellow (social
activities), green (ecological issues), violet (computer and communication
technology), cyan (transportation), and blue (water resources). These issues
were also considered as seven design themes or domains. Each team should
take the lead of one central theme but encourage all other participants to
be involved. Each team then became the expert in one aspect of collaborative design. The team efforts were helpful by negotiation or consultation
to integrate all themes. The theme-oriented mode proved to be more effective than the task-oriented mode in helping each team for sharing information and decision-making.
In the design process, site or task arrangement was used as a design strategy to study communication in collaborative design. Since if the site is
subdivided into smaller lots, design communication becomes more critical
and more complicated. As shown in Figure 4, if only three teams (A, B,
C) participate, the scheme III will have more variation than the scheme I
and II, but the designers will spend more efforts to solve interface problems
in order to balance the difference or maintain a consistent space structure.
However, in architectural practice, the site selection is closed to the scheme
I or II for balancing the requirements for communication and difficulty
among several design groups.
Learning from the above experience, change of team organization is more
flexible and critical than site arrangement for studying design collaboration.

Figure 4 Three design schemes and site selection

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Therefore, in CDS2000, the team organization was changed. As shown in

Figure 5, subdivided teams and mixed teams were considered at the beginning to achieve the purpose of collaboration. Due to the complexity of
communication, a hybrid team approach was adopted, and five design
teams were formed and each team consisted of four members from two
institutions. Therefore, both the teams and institutions could trace the information flows, and could detect possible communication problems.


The information flow

Figure 6 demonstrates the information flow in the task-oriented mode, such

as in CDS95, CDS96, and CDS2000. Each team has one coordinator
and information is passed to each other freely in the mesh network. Within
each team, the coordinator passes the information to each member in the
star network. Sometimes, a team member talked to other team members

Figure 5 Team organization

of CDS2000


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

Figure 6 Information flows

in the CDS

directly, without passing the hierarchical structure. In fact, designers were

encouraged to freely discuss their opinions among or within the teams. That
is particularly important in a distributed design environment to overcome
communication barriers and bring in external inputs. In CDS97, the information flows are easily traced because the discussion theme is identified.
The communication in the theme-oriented mode is more useful for promote
design ideas from sharing design information and expertise than in the
task-oriented mode.
The design alternatives are the evidence for understanding the status of
design. In CDS2000, the changes are summarized for comparing the interactions among team members after reviewing the progress report in each
week. For example, Figure 7 illustrates design iterations of five groups in
the design process. Group-3 and Group-4 even changed design alternatives
due to poor communication in the third and the fourth weeks. Finally, team
members had negotiated and compromised on the key decisions to define
the final design alternatives. Indeed, collaboration required coordination
and leadership in design communications, particularly when passive interaction occurred. The scenario of choosing the hybrid team organization
demonstrates the strength of identifying the problems.


Toizumi, K Computer Supported Face-to-face Meeting
Environment for Architectural
Design Collaboration Proceedings of Advances in Computerbase and Web-base Collaborative Systems, InterSymp-99,
Baden-Baden, Germany (2000)
pp 3947

As evidenced in the studios, design collaboration through asynchronous or

synchronous design meeting is not only seeking a place for exchanging
and sharing information, ideas, concerns of individuals, but also functions
as a place for understanding the context and situation of a project, exploring
and developing design concepts and ideas, and reaching a consensus of a
team17. Apparently, without the groupware or tools, the communication
will be more difficult to trace important information to reach the final
results. It is useful for designers if the groupware can detect the possible
obstacles or conflicts in the design process by visualizing the design

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Figure 7 Design alternatives emerged in the process

Furthermore, a similar survey as in practice was conducted to understand

how participants were involved in studied studios and their experiences in
design communication. The findings are as follows:
(1) Purposes for communication: as estimated by these participants, 50%
of communication was related to solving design problems, while 50%
of communication was related to defining the design problems.
(2) Time spent on communication: in CDS, 50% of the project time was
spent on communication, while 40% of time was spent on drafting
and design, and 10% of the project time was spent for other tasks.
Learning computer supported collaborative design technologies in
design communication becomes critical for designers to share design
information for decision-making and coordinating design tasks.
(3) Individual versus group communication: communication occurred
among both individuals and groups. The number of people typically
involved in communication varied from two to four. However, the
design information is distributed to three level of organization, including the individuals, groups, or people involved in the project.
(4) Design communication frequency: as estimated, the internal communication is as frequent as the external communication, since data can be
transmitted simultaneously to all participants and legal issues are not
under consideration. Within the same group, the frequency of internal
communication was about three to five times per day. Within different


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

groups, the external communication was about at least once per day.
The frequency in studios was higher than in practice due to the large
use of telecommunication and computer supported tools.
(5) Design representation in communication: it was found that the major
design representations in asynchronous communication included texts,
sketches, CAD drawing, and computer-rendered images. In synchronous communication, persons preferred the use of the visual presentation plus e-mails or oral explanation. From the behavioral point of
view, while visual communication is the foundation of design collaboration, language barriers in oral communication often imposed a stress
effect on teams as well as technical barriers.
(6) Computer supported systems: most participants prefer the system
should be simple and easy to use, and need message posting or pinup to situate them or co-members in the process.
This section provides a better understanding of the interactions between
organizations and design communication and the implications for future
design practice. There are some similarities and differences of communication patterns between architectural practice and design studios. The
above findings contribute to the basis for the following discussion.

Issues raised

The analysis of the above cases and experiments in collaborative design

raised the questions such as: What kind of model can better describe the
collaborative process? Whether structured organizations can better support
design communication and collaboration in the design process? What is the
role of technologies in the design process? How can computer supported
collaborative works (CSCW) provide better interface to achieve effective
communication? These questions are elaborated as follows.


Cicognani, A and Maher,

M L Models of collaboration for
designers in computers in computer supported environment in
Maher M L, Gero J, and
Suweeks F (eds), Proceedings
of IFIP97 conference (1997) pp
19 Kvan, T Tools for a virtual
the effects of different tools on
design communication in Maher
M L, Gero J and Suweeks F
(eds), Proceedings of IFIP97
conference (1997) pp 109123

The process model

We need a process model of collaborative design to describe certain

phenomena in which the design tasks are undertaken to possibly reach the
final design18. The model is important for all participants to understand
his/her position in design collaboration, and for researchers to analyze
design activities.
Collaboration is a deeper, more personal synergistic process, and its process involves negotiation, agreement, and compromise in order to achieve
success19. Figure 8 illustrates a general process of collaborative design
driven by decision-making. The design information is delivered from initial
state to the final state until the decision-making process is completed. The
cyclic process involved consultation, negotiation, decision-making, and

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


Figure 8 A process model of

design collaboration

reflection. Negotiation is observed as the major task in decision-making in

collaborative design. Consultation is an action to verify which decisions
have to be made. Reflection is to confirm the decisions and initiate another
cycle of information processing. In the process, stimuli and participants
attitude are also critical to decision-making. This model helps us understand how design collaboration can speed up the process through effective
organization and communication by potential computer supported systems.


Structured organization

In general, team organization in design collaboration is better structured

in architectural practice than in design studios because design goals are
often well defined in practice. In practice, current design collaboration is
organized based on four factors: (1) design expertise; (2) social functions;
(3) resources; and (4) design culture. Both design expertise and management skills are important factors for successful design collaboration. The
relationship of individuals or groups with the hierarchical organization in
each project is well established in architectural practice. The organization
exists for problem solving throughout effective communication. Therefore,
the success of design collaboration can be measured. From previous case
studies, phenomena or patterns of design communication demonstrate that
structured organization can better serve in design collaboration if those
participants are better informed and know about the essence of design operations, available resources and supports, and responsibility in the process.
Therefore, participants can utilize available resource and position his/her
role in the process in better manners.


Craig, D L and Zimring, C

Supporting collaborative design
groups as design communities
Design Studies Vol 21 (2000)


On the other hand, unstructured collaboration is often found in design studios that do not share goals and requires minimally an open exchange
of ideas and issues among participants20. Whether design studios require
structured organization is still under debate because the intention for design
collaboration is often different from the practice. In design studio, current
design collaboration is organized based on four factors: (1) design orientation; (2) design expertise; (3) design culture; and (4) availability of communication and computer supported systems. Design collaboration is often

Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

applied for searching better results collaboratively through design exploration, but it is difficult to evaluate how it reaches its goals. Nevertheless,
the main advantage of structured organization in studios is to detect communication problems and facilitate the process. The practice provides similar and comparable experience for the studio.

In the computer era, the organization can be formed in response to the

new changing environment. A distributed organization can be considered
as a collaborative framework for defining roles or organizing expertise in
the process with computer support collaborative systems.


The role of technology in design collaboration

The case studies and experiments clearly demonstrate the impact of using
new technologies on the collaborative process in design offices as well as
studios. The shift from conventional or manual tools to digital technologies
is a natural trend, while the conventional tools or manual works still can
complement the digital tools. It is found in case studies that interactions
between conventional and digital media are a complex mixture in the
design process. If design communications occurring in the process force
the design development that generates design information, then media
interactions amplify the designers opportunities to reach the goals. The
uses of computer supported systems will enhance design communication.
However, the quality of design is not driven by the technology. Design
communication contributes mostly to the effectiveness of decision-making,
including consultation, negotiation, evaluation, and confirmation.

Effective technological support is one of the factors to achieve the success

of design collaboration in studios. Process is as much a contributing factor
to success as technology. Thus design collaboration must assist the participants in learning about processing a successful design exchange over
communication networks. While the technologies are continuously
developed, the performance of computer supported collaborative design is
associated with the learning curve of new technology. Orientation sessions
should be conducted prior to the design review to familiarize with the
strengths and limitations of the communications.

The above analysis from the preliminary observation provides the impetus
for seeking what are needed in CSCWs. The study starts to examine what
kinds of function that conventional tools are lacking, and what kind of
interface in CSCW can offer for enhancing the interaction in collaborative design.

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration



Implications for computer supported systems

Computer supported collaborative work motivates and validates groupware

design, and defines groupware as products specifically designed to assist
groups of people working together21. The aim of CSCW is to build a
groupware system to let people cooperate by overcoming barriers of space
and time that are imposed on people.
The current or collaborative groupware technologies (such as shared
whiteboard, electronic mail, internet phone, desktop conferencing systems,
and general-purpose software) are inadequate for the particular needs of
simultaneous, multi-user discussion and co-production of architectural
document. The research should focus on combining the rich representation
of a CAD system with current collaborative technologies to support distributed design process22. The emphasis is not on current multi-user access to
integrated database, but rather on shared protocols of interaction that are
independent of implementation and storage schemes.
Meanwhile, developing convenient tools to support message broadcasting
and desktop publishing has become necessary for collaborative design.
Making the collaborative design process observable is useful for problem
detection and group awareness23,24. The tools are not only to document
design development but also to indicate the status of each individual
involved in the process.


Rosenberg, D and Hutchison, C (eds) Design Issues in

CSCW, Springer-Verlag, London (1994)
22 Jabi, W and Hall, T Beyond
the shared whiteboard: issues in
computer supported collaborative design, in M Tan and R
Teh (eds) Proceedings of International Conference on CAAD
Future 95, Singapore (1995) pp
23 Baldwin, A, Austin, S,
Hassan, T and Thorpe, A Planning building design by simulating information flow Automation
in Construction Vol 8 (1998)
24 Matsumoto, Y, Sasada, S
and Yamaguchi, S Making the
collaborative design process
observablevisualization of the
collaborative design process in a
VDS project in B K Tan and M
Tan (eds) Proceedings of CAADRIA2000, Singapore (2000) pp


Therefore, the functions of CSCW are to support communication as follows:

(1) Define task and process dependency: the system should be able to
define participants and their tasks in the process, and support three
level of communication, that is, individual, group, and project. Therefore, task and process dependency can automatically promote interactions among participants.
(2) Define data dependency: the system should be able to define data
dependency based on a combination of the reference, documentation,
project management, and communication system, thus design information can be generated, stored, and shared.
(3) Visualize design process: the system should be able to trace the status
or progress of project by visualization to detect possible communication pitfalls.
(4) Support team awareness: group participation in design collaboration
is a social process, and the system should be able to enhance the personal identity and team awareness in the process by demonstrating
participants presence.

Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002

To expand the capabilities of current CAD systems and to go beyond the

limited functions and expressions of general-purpose collaborative tools,
the study proposes a theme-oriented interface that combines collaboration
technologies with a rich and meaningful representation scheme. Figure 9
demonstrates a framework that design information can be shared in the
modeling and the communication modules. The modeling module can be
maintained in the individual workspace, while the coordination of design
information and task is critical for maintaining the group workspace.
In general, project managers or coordinators can monitor the global workspace. While accommodating the simultaneous design stage, it is necessary
to build a system for maintaining consistency from an initial state and
reaching a state which everyone concerned agrees. To maintain the integrity and chronology of events, the participants cannot modify the public
workspace unless connected to the coordinator or project manager.


This paper provides a basic understanding of the role of organization in

design collaboration and how it affects design communication and collaboration by empirical case studies and design experiments. There are similarities and differences of organizational influence in design collaboration
in the architectural practice and design studios. Without an understanding
of how these above conditions are met, further study of what computational
tools are needed for computer supported collaborative design cannot be

Figure 9 A framework of

An organizational view of design communication in design collaboration


The research indicates that collaboration in architectural design can proceed effectively through structured collaboration for sharing design information. Analysis of the processes of design collaboration can serve as the
foundation for support tools. Identification of how organization may interact with design communication enhances our basic understanding of design
collaboration. New computer supported systems or groupware that have
the capacity to support managing information flows by visualization are
required, a computer supported collaborative system can be developed with
the functions of automatically tracking the design tasks and their dependency, and building knowledge into the system to enhance the ability of
communication and coordination.
Due to the emerging role of technologies in the design process, the design
orientation and programme can be changed. Design collaboration requires
consideration of changing design strategies, organization, environment, or
culture in response to the future needs in a distributed environment. The
management skills of dynamic design organization are as important as the
uses of computer supported groupware in such an environment.

The author would like to thank the assistance from persons of each studied
project, the colleagues who have collaborated in Collaborative Design Studios over the last 5 years, and students who have participated projects.


Design Studies Vol 23 No. 2 March 2002