Clothing for premature babies
The first virtual design studio experiment was the ‘Clothing-design Project for Premature Babies’. The design task was a very challenging, authentic and complex design task: the students were asked to design and produce functionally and aesthetically delightful clothes for premature babies. The study focused on examining how the progressive inquiry model of collaborative designing characterizes advancement of designing in a networked environment. In addition, we were interested in how members of design teams develop shared design ideas and organize their collaborative activity within the network environment.
In the second, virtual design studio experiment, the starting point was to examine user-centered and participatory designing in VDS. We were interested in to what extent the progressive inquiry model of collaborative designing would help to define and characterize progress of participatory design in the network environment. Moreover, we wanted to examine what kind of role a user comes to have in design process; i.e., whether he or she is a distributor of his or her own experiences or whether he or she performs as an actual team member. Further, the present investigators were also interested in how users and design teams exchange knowledge of functional, expressive and aesthetic properties of the product to designed.
In the third virtual design studio experiment, we looked for means of integrating support of domain experts as a part of VDS. The task was to design and produce a tactile book for visually impaired children according to the rules of the European Tactus competition together with Celia Library for Visually Impaired Children. In the Tactile Book Project, investigators intended to create a design community that had a shared goal. The purpose of sharing of expertise was that experts representing various communities would actively participate in collaborative designing.
Conclusions of the experiments
Firstly, the all three design experiments indicated that it was important for the design process that students and participants construct a coherent design context and specified design constraints by structuring the process iteratively, together. In all experiments, the students acquired relevant information about the necessary requirements of the product in question and tried to ensure that the product reflect the end user’s needs. To conclude, there are various ways to implement the user-centered or participatory designing in VDS from very early stages. This involvement increases users’ opportunities to influence the characteristics of the end product.
Secondly, the three design experiments indicated that all of the students obtained and provided new information to the shared VDS space and engaged in reciprocal interaction by answering and asking questions. Students used VDS mainly to collaborate with the users or the experts, but not so actively to work with each other. On the basis of the design experiments, we can conclude that VDSs do not automatically guarantee the collaborative nature of designing; the students own active participation and intensive interaction have an essential role in advancement of the process. In the second design experiments, the participants felt that VDS did not provide much added value in interaction between students (who were meeting each other anyway), but it was meaningful interacting with users.
Thirdly, students developed the main part of the new design ideas whereas the participants representing users or experts actively provided their experiential knowledge and evaluated students’ design ideas. The users and experts active feedback was essential to promote students design process. In addition, the feedback from the prototype testing situations, in the cases of designing clothing for premature babies and tactile book, had a very substantial role for students’ design progress.
Finally, the collaborative design process is not just designing the products but also designing the process itself, jointly. VDSs function as a shared working space for many participants and allow collaboration between design teams across temporal and spatial distances. However, the success of the joint undertaking also requires active organizing of the collaborative process. Thus, each team also has to make some kind of division of labor and decide who is responsible for certain issues.