Economical “intelligent” technologies emerging from the fields of electrical engineering, materials science, and computer science are making product design an increasingly multi-disciplinary activity. Collaboration among disciplinary specialists is particularly important in the early phases of the design process, when alternative technology strategies are considered and initial solution approaches are planned. In an effort to design new forms of technology-supported global learning spaces, Stanford University sponsored a design charrette, bringing together participants from a variety of disciplines to develop design requirements for both the technological and physical architecture of such spaces. The design activity was videotaped and later analyzed in an attempt to understand how design teams were using information and how much emphasis each team placed on information handling activity vs. social interaction. One outcome of this work was the development of a coding scheme that can be applied to analyze activity of design teams during the early phases of conceptual design. Another outcome was a quantitative analysis of the design activity. The analysis of two design teams with apparently very different process approaches revealed similar activity patterns. It also showed a rather even distribution within each team between “information introduction” activities and “process navigation” activities. The results demonstrate the importance of detailed, structured analysis of design team activity and suggest opportunities for future research in this area.

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