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Collaborative design is a complex cognitive and social activity that requires coordination of both processes and products between its participants. Information required for this coordinative activity are descriptions of the various tasks and products found within a design project, and of the current state of these entities. State descriptions can arise from technical analysis, perhaps employing automated, machine-based methods, or can arise from a social process of consensual, collaborative assessment that results in design team members applying informal linguistic descriptions to processes. In the event that no automated process exists for state determination, then members of the design team must work together and find a mutually agreeable assessment of state. With this information designers are better able to determine the progress and status of a design process, and to assess their roles and responsibilities within a design team.
This research describes the design and implementation of a design support tool that enables distributed teams to collaboratively determine the state of design entities, such as tasks and products. The tool is role-based, and enables users to communicate simple looped state-transition models that they feel suitably describe the possible states and transitions that a design entity could experience. These state models can describe the degree of completion, degree of acceptance within a team, or progress with respect to a series of milestones. By attaching entities to simple state-transition loops, users make input based on simple questions about the state of individual entities, rather than complex ones arising from the interaction of entities. Complex branching process structures can be created by composing entities. The tool automatically handles state assessment of complex, linked compositions of entities, while users handle assessment of simple, non-linked entities. It provides users with information regarding design state and structure, and supports a form of bottom-up design coordination that requires no centralized policies or inputs, prior to deployment.