The overall objectives of both phases of this project are therefore:
- to develop a computer-based environment integrating the design tools which already exist - such as CAD systems, graphics tools, hypermedia, simulation and rendering tools, etc., - into a collaborative environment, supporting the flexible informal practices of designers and the distributed physical spaces in which they work;
- to develop a computer-based system supporting the interaction of designers with developers (marketing professionals, production engineers, etc.) and/or with users (fabricators, clients, etc.).
Our approach to the research is an interdisciplinary one with two linked components. One concerns the analysis of the co-operative work involved in the design of artefacts and spaces. The other concerns the development of technical means for appropriately engaging and connecting this co-operative work. The principal methods to be used for the work analysis and the development of computer support will be ethnographic studies of work in context and participatory design. We will a) look at design practices in a variety of work settings, b) explore the technical and organisational possibilities for creating integrated electronic work environments, c) look at the potential of such an integrated environment for supporting a meshing of design practices with modern industrial paradigms, d) create a variety of 'product-oriented' technical ideas and test them in co-operation with end-users.
We will use the first phase for:
- conducting a series of pilot studies for assessing the feasibility of the overall project;
- developing a shared understanding and conceptual framework;
- developing co-operative relationships with end-users - practitioners of design, software companies who specialise in multi-media environments for designers, and fabricators;
- translating the experiences of the first phase into an integrated work programme for the second phase.
The results we expect to produce is process-support for highly creative, non-routinised work practices which will be based on a thorough understanding of the specific requirements (in terms of practices, language, organisation, technologies already in-use) of each involved set of actors. We will also have designed and tested in close co-operation with end-users innovative products for creating an integrated electronic work environment.
The feasibility of our approach depends on two conditions. First, an integrated collaborative environment can only be developed if there is a body of shared practices amongst design domains and designer teams. Second, it must be possible to integrate the multiplicity of already existing platforms, tools, and standards. We will carefully analyse and evaluate these two open problems, so that their nature, relevance and difficulty can be estimated before the second phase.
One of the most significant challenges for information systems design is to move out to support increasingly advanced forms of production. The research we propose responds to some aspects of these changing conditions by focusing on computer support for the integration of aesthetic production in the design of artefacts and spaces. We will study four areas of design: architecture, graphic design, industrial design, and landscape architecture. The creative design of artefacts and spaces is a highly complex activity. It involves a process of 'reading' and 'writing' in the material culture, oriented particularly to the manipulation and annotation of visual elements. Some separate aspects of this are quite well supported, for example by CAD systems and their specialised derivatives. The integration of the design process, however, is not currently well supported at all.
We see the industrial relevance of our approach in providing the empirically based background knowledge necessary for building an integrated organisational and technical work environment for design. The idea is to provide the technical facilities for producing multi-media documents, for linking these documents to others, for handing them over to other professional communities, and for communicating design ideas and technical details at a distance.