Undergraduate design students’ experiences of decision making in the framing stage of a collaborative design project



Design Education Strategy


  • collaborative design, decision-making, framing, teamwork


Collaboration is recognised as essential in the process of solving large-scale complex problems and can therefore be observed in both the design industry and in design education. As part of design collaboration, design teams go through a process of framing the design problem, proposing potential solutions, and taking the steps required to produce an outcome. Framing, as originally defined by Schön (1999), provides a method to identify the decisions that a design team takes on their journey to establish potential design solutions. Ideally, for a collaboration to be successful design teams need to arrive at a share frame characterised by a common understanding of the problem, solution, and actions.

This article presents a phenomenological study of the decision-making strategies that undergraduate design students apply in framing concepts during an open-ended, short-term, intense, collaborative design project. Students from multiple campuses who were studying towards degree, diploma, in the first and second-year across a range of design disciplines participated in the project. Data was generated through interviews with a small number of students from different groups on two campuses. The data revealed that students described group decision making in terms of positive and negative emotional experiences as well as the source of stress, conflict, and negotiation. The negative experiences were primarily linked to conflict caused by a lack of trust, poor communication, and uneven workload. Although framing was not explicit, what students described was the struggle to generate and agree on a shared frame. Including collaborative projects in design education is essential to establishing new pathways for student learning. Based on an analysis of student interviews, we propose that certain adjustments to collaborative projects may enhance the learning experience and the design product that students generate. These adjustments include timing the project to accommodate novice design students, explicitly incorporating and addressing the framing process, and including training in soft skills such as team building, leadership, and conflict management.


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