About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Defining Design and Design's Role in Distributed Groups

I thought I had posted about this topic, which was actually an important idea that had to be cut from my dissertation. However, Colin Gray's current research on design and innovation resonates with the findings that design is a social construct rooted in multiple cultures within distributed groups. He speaks of the disruption of thought which is something that distributed groups do when they negotiate meaning.

Design is the application of power structure values and work patterns to genres. As a result, design becomes the processes by which genres are created, embedded in the organizational cultures, and aligned with organizational vision. Buchanan ( 1992) distinguishes between categories and placement of design.

Categories consist of fixed meanings that allow us to understand and analyze existing knowledge. These categories can fall into four forms: symbolic and visual communication, material objects, activities and organized services; and complex systems and environments. These types of categories represent the intention of “signs, things, action, and thoughts” (Buchanan, p.12) based on the understanding and analysis of perceived knowledge. In other words, design is the result of analyzing a situation, applying concepts based on experience and perception of what works and does not work, and developing a plan the creates boundaries within which individuals and workers have the intent to work.

A more important aspect of design, however, is placement. While categories imply a static structure analyzing “what already exists” (Buchanan, 1994, p. 13) , design is a reflection of the dynamic environment in which a plan must be implemented.
Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances. (Buchanan, p. 13)

In other words, design is the result of analyzing existing structures, but also helps in the creation of new meaning and understanding as designs are situated differently. The success of a design is based on environmental factors, intention (including the degree of agency granted to those implementing the design), and boundaries setting the orientation to thinking.

Study Findings

After the first series of interviews, I noticed that many of the participants used the term design, but each in a slightly different way. As a result, a definition of design was included in the second interview. In fact, the definition of design had very little in common from speaker to speaker. In addition, it seemed the most difficult term for the participants to define, most having long pauses before they answered.

Those from the stand-up training department tended to perceive design as a definitive construct using terms such as “strategies”, “content”, “framework”, and “curriculum.” For those in the elearning department, design was a more situated term to define, grounded in the creative and meaning making process. For example, “Design is the…planful…elegance and pattern…which gives…definition and meaning.” Not only is there some situated aspect to design, but those in the elearning department identified a sense of agency in their definitions.

Such a divergence in the understanding of what design is could lead to differences in understanding during the creation of a collaborative document, especially when there is no structure to the document, such as the Project Map. The first writing project, using a clearly defined structure was, “Well, the quarterly report’s always a by-product of individual contributions.” On the other hand, the second collaborative project studied was a document created by the group to help identify the various aspects of the elearning project. In discussing this document in a group interview, the difficulty in creating an agreed upon product was obvious:

Well, what formally…I think the … for the classroom trainers, they have a document. Module 1 contains X number of elements. Module 2 contains X number of elements. Eh…for me, there’s a sort of isomorphic mapping of those content elements onto a schema that reflects those same strains and tho…and that same order.


P: There’s a certain way to do that in the classroom. So, um… I think that’s…I don’t know if you can…say right now what your product is going to be. It’s going to be some type of elearning product.
R: Right. I mean…
P: But what it’s going to look like and how it’s…how it’s going to work is not…really isn’t there yet.
R: It isn’t really there... I mean, we have an idea…

Those in the stand-up training department seemed to perceive design in what Buchanan (1992) refers to as the categories of design: “Categories have fixed meanings that are accepted within the framework of a theory or a philosophy, and serve as the basis for analyzing what already exist (p. 12).” The elearning department looked at the possibilities of design, however. This is what Buchanan refers to as placement of design. “Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence, a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances (p. 13).”

It appears that coming to the collaborative writing process from these two different approaches affects the knowledge creation and collaborative process. In the one instance, categories, the design is part of tangible knowledge: artifacts, clearly defined processes and skills. In the second instance of placement, design requires spatial knowledge, or the ability to link ideas and construct or create knowledge by building new ideas and theories. The categories of design, then, use knowledge that can be identified or represented tangibly (i.e. diagrams, processes, symbols, formats) whereas the placement of design requires environmental, social, and cognitive interaction to create knowledge networks where externally held knowledge can be accessed when needed. During the collaborative process within this distributed group, the different approaches in design resulted in tensions due to different expectations.

Collaborative Design:

Fundamentally, design is always done in the context of a group. Collaborative design gives ownership of the process and product to the group. However, design does more than develop a shared process and product. Collaborative design creates a shared mental model and understanding of the work task, identifies group member strengths, weaknesses, resources, and knowledge networks, and develops social relationships within the group. It also gives access to group member knowledge networks and group members that can translate knowledge from outside of the group so that it has meaning for the group. Design becomes both the categories (schemata, paradigms, values and perspectives) and the placement (possibilities) in the application of group knowledge (Buchanan, 1994; Goodwin, 1994; Nonaka, 1994).

To maximize partaged knowledge within the group, distributed groups need to have time to design collaboratively on a continual basis. It is important that group members have a mechanism to continually align perspectives and understand group members’ knowledge networks as these networks redevelop.

No comments: