Designers’ Semantic Networks for Collaboration

James A. Danowski, Ph.D., Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago,

For its first three years, the Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs) international conferences have been hosted by design-focused institutions. This is evidence of the perceived importance of scholarly attention to the processes of collaboration in the breadth of design projects. Prior research has not examined the social meanings of collaboration of various kinds in the design process and what variables may be associated with these meanings. Such analysis would help develop relevant theory. Accordingly, this research examines how designers encode messages about ‘collaboration’ in their professional self-descriptions, and tests the hypothesis that designers with more professional contacts have more complex semantic networks for collaboration than those with fewer contacts. The rationale is that collaboration is fundamentally a social process, and those with more social capital (more contacts) have more developed semantic networks for collaboration. It is assumed that they have been involved in more collaborative activities and accordingly have a richer semantic network, with more unique word nodes, stronger links among nodes (semantic discrimination), more clustering of words into subgroups (differentiation), and more word inter-group linkage through central nodes (integration). Data were collected about designers who are members of LinkedIn ( and who used the term ‘collaborate’ (or its lexical variants: collabor…ate, …ated, …ive, …ation, …ating, …ator) in their profiles. According to its document “LinkedIn Facts,” it is the world’s largest online professional network with more than 100 million members in over 200 countries. More than half of the members are located outside the USA. LinkedIn claims that there were nearly two billion people searches in 2010 ( LinkedIn profiles include the number of “connections (contact persons),” current job title and name of organization, and prior positions held with descriptions of these positions involving skills exercised. Also included are education history, reading lists, and other social network contact information. It is analogous to an online resume but coupled with a social network. Searches were done on user profiles for “designer” as well as one or more lexical variants of the word ‘collaboration.’ From the search results a sample of profiles was extracted, proportional to distribution of the ‘collaboration’ lexical variants for all designers. Table 1 shows the counts and percentages of the lexical variants designers used in their profiles. This sample was split into two subsamples: those with connections below the median of 128, and those at or above the median.


Table 1. Use of ‘Collab…” by All Designers ‘Collab…” # Designers none 365472 % ...ed ...tion …ive …ate …or 10909 7709 6544 5263 3114 569 3.0 2.1 1.8 1.4 0.9 .02 Percent




Of the 365,872 designers in LinkedIn, 34,108 used a ‘collaboration” lexical variant, which was 9.3%. Table 2 shows the industries, the total numbers of designers in each category and the number using a variant of ‘collaboration’ The computer-related design industries show the highest percentages using collaboration terms at 10%, closely followed by Marketing & Advertising at 9%, then by Apparel & Fashion, Graphic Design and general Design at 7% with the lowest in Architecture & Planning at 6%. The “super collaborator” designers using four of the lexical variants in their profiles numbered 23.

Table 2. Industry Profile of ‘Collab…” for Designers

Design Industry

# Designers Using ‘Collab…”

Design Graphic Design Architecture & Planning Marketing and Advertising

9674 7313 3712 3700

Information Technology and Services Internet Computer Software

2315 2227 1679


Apparel & Fashion E-Learning Online Media Higher Education

1398 1046 892 152



In addition to testing the hypothesis that those with more connections have a more developed semantic network about collaboration, a goal is to analyze the semantic networks surrounding the lexical variants for ‘collaborate,’ performing word-centric network analysis. Words appearing three word positions before or after each word in the texts are linked using WORDij software (Danowski, 1993; 2009). This gives a way of interpreting the meaning of collaboration to designers. To test for differences between the word pair relative frequencies between the two connections groups, Z-tests for proportions were performed with the results displayed in tables in the full paper. Aggregate networks for the global data, and for the two comparison groups of high and low numbers of connections, are shown in Figures 1-3 in the completed paper along with discussion of results, limitations, and directions for future research.

Proposed length of Paper: 15 pages.