Traces on the walls and traces in the air: inscriptions and gestures in educational design team meetings

Dewa Wardak

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

Designers from various domains have relied extensively on the use of drawing and sketching to communicate their design ideas. Domains such as architecture and engineering design have well-established and refined visual languages. In these areas significant research is dedicated to the study of drawing and sketching. One design area that is lagging behind others is educational design. Very little is known in this field about how participants in teams use drawing and sketching to support their communication in design meetings.

This study draws on an applied ethnomethodological perspective to investigate how participants in educational design meetings interact with each other, and with objects in their environment, while creating and attending to drawings. Two case studies involving four separate groups of designers were analysed. The first case involved the design of an educational blog and the second the design of an educational game. The meetings were conducted in the Design Studio, a purpose-built room for conducting research on educational design at the University of Sydney. The studio features two writable walls, which were widely used by the majority of participants in the study. The participants in this study created various types of inscriptions. Inscriptions are defined here as all types of drawings, sketches, and visual marks created in support of design activity. Inscriptions entail a shift from mental representations to social activity. A face-to-face design session often involves multimodal resources thus requiring the analysis of other modes such as gestures. In this study gestures were often used as an additional communicative channel. They functioned as complementary representational means through which the participants made sense of the inscriptions. Understanding the nuances involved in the way designers interact with inscriptions is a necessary step for building better tools, which may support more effective communication between experienced designers, and help novices as they learn to negotiate the design process.

This thesis contributes to our understanding of multi-modal communication in educational design team meetings and has implications for the functioning of next-generation design tools and design environments, as well as for the training of educational designers.

Supervisors: Professor Peter Goodyear, Dr Lucila De Carvalho and Dr Katherine Thompson