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DESIGNING IN TEAM: COLLABORATIVE DESIGN

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Design is an activity that mankind has always engaged in. This activity has evolved from one level and form to
another. Current trends show an approach to design is in vogue. This method is designing in team – collaborative
design. Collaborative design is an approach to design in which participants of different profiles and sometimes at
different locations work together towards a design goal. This paper is a study of collaborative design to understand
what it is, the reason behind the popularity it has garnered nowadays, typical behaviours of design team members,
the barriers if faces and recommendations on how to overcome the barriers.

Collaborative design can occur in several forms. Measured by dimensions of openness and governance, it can be
open, closed, flat or hierarchical. Open collaboration has no restriction on participants and involves usually not well-
defined subjects. Closed collaboration involves fewer persons with participation and contributions coordinated, and
a well-defined subject. In hierarchical kind of collaboration, decision making is handled by an overseer and the work
of each participant is set by the decision maker. In Flat collaboration challenges are shared and decisions are made
by all participants. Further, collaboration method can be defined by a space and time metrics. Face-to-face
collaboration is carried out in the same time and place. Asynchronous collaboration involves same place but at
different times. Synchronous distributed collaboration involves different locations but same time. Asynchronous
distributed collaboration is the method where participants work in same location but at different times.

Collaborative design process proceeds in four phases: framing of the problem, generation of ideas and alternatives,
analysis of the ideas and selection of the best ones, formulation of concept from the ideas. Generally, the input for
the collaborative design process is a design briefing. The product of the process is a design proposal.

Collaborative design has gained popularity due to some factors. Results from collaborative design cases show easier,
faster and more coherent access to services and benefits; the synergistic efforts of the collaborating partners often
result in creative ways to overcome obstacles. The drive towards innovation has therefore also driven the focus on
this design approach. Another factor is the competitive nature of the business environment. Businesses are in a
constant search for differentiation – a way of making themselves unique. Furthermore, the advent of web 2.0 has
provided a lot of functionalities and capabilities that support collaborative design. Web 2.0 is the current state of
online technology as it compares to the early days of the Web, characterized by greater user interactivity and
collaboration, more pervasive network connectivity and enhanced communication channels. The capabilities
presented by web 2.0 therefore steers a switch to collaborative design.

The efficiency and efficacy of a design team is impacted by the behaviours of participants. Knowledge of typical
behaviours is necessary as it helps one be better prepared and equipped for effective collaboration. The study
identified certain typical behaviours. The Control Freak is self-assertive and praise-seeking. The Conflict Intolerant is
easily put off by disagreements. The Gender Chauvinist tries to display superiority over the opposite sex. Also, there
is the Workaholic who frequently works outside of designated team time and the Lone Wolf who score high on job
involvement but low on organisational commitment. The Insecure is highly sensitive and suspicious of colleagues.
There are the expressive participants who can easily communicate with all colleagues, and there are the tacit
participants who is more silent than they talk. The Disrupter always objects opinions and easily seen as a problem
but actually helps a team come up with stronger and clearer ideas.

Effective collaboration is hampered by certain barriers because of the nature and intricacies of designing in team.
Even with the advances in technology, tools that aid collaboration can fail thus inhibiting the process. Possibility of
conflict is ever present in teams of people of different minds focused on high-performance objectives. The wealth of
information available in this information age can become a problem of less attention due to information overload.
This can stifle creativity expected from collaborative design. Socio-cultural differences can lead to disagreement and
stalling of team progress. Language differences affect effective communication. Dispersion in team location make
some members feel alienated and keeps level of acquaintance low. These cause trust issues. Effective collaboration
can be capital intensive. Some organisations would struggle to support the cost of collaboration.

To overcome these barriers, certain recommendations should be applied. Successful collaboration requires
leadership that models and personifies the behaviours expected from participants. Prospective team members
should be trained in collaborative skills – people skills like active listening, social awareness and polite expression.
Moreover, in team selection, candidates with multicultural experience should be given preference. Use of artefacts,
a physical micro-creation of ideas/concepts, should be encouraged no matter the kind of collaboration. Successful
collaboration requires appropriate choice of kind of collaborative design based on the nature of specific design tasks
and the flexibility to change or adjust the style in use as need be.