Toward a system for design collaboration that supports interaction and information sharing
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This thesis presents two empirical studies of four pairs of design students collaborating on two small products design sessions in both face-to-face and distributed settings while using computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies and a Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE). To gain insight about the way designers communicate and collaborate, the observation focused on how much time the students worked "together" and "individually" in the design process. Each design process was video recorded and analyzed with a video analysis software Observer XT. The first study shows that both teams worked together to arrive at a design concept then they divided the work for each person to work independently (either the 3D modeling task or the 2D graphic task) to produce the final design. Teams worked together less than fifty percent of the overall work time because they could not share design information effectively using the computing technology tools on the collaborative design process. Findings of the first study suggested plausible design criteria for communication tools for distributed collaboration that supports interaction and sharing design information. The second study used the same methodology and experimental procedures as those used in study. However, participants were provided a shared tool such as NetMeeting Whiteboard and Shared program that support shared sketching abilities or shared viewing of 3D objects. The study shows that teams spent more time working together when using programs that support shared sketching abilities or shared viewing of 3D objects. The shared program and the whiteboard function from NetMeeting helped the design teams to share more information. Participants commented that this program helped facilitate the collaborative process by enabling them each to perform multiple tasks such as talking with their teammates and observing 3D object in a shared view at the same time. Participants also reported that they found the distributed setting a more engaging environment to work with teammates because they were "forced to be engaged" and "forced to communicate better," and that they "concentrated more using hand gestures on camera." Although two studies showed that current CVE (Unreal) did not lead to effective collaboration, several potential features such as creating virtual mock-ups for the brainstorming within a virtual environment were introduced. Participants consider real time 3D visualization effective in the design process and thus very promising in the collaborative setting if they can share ideas easily within a 3D virtual environment.