I have returned from time to time to the perceived shortcomings of online design collaboration insofar as some architects and other designers prefer the intuitive, paper-based processes of marking-up, commenting and sketching on design drawings by hand. Such ‘collaboration’ they say is less easy when they are faced by conventional computer interfaces as opposed to, say, a pen and an A1 sheet of paper surrounded by other information that helps give the design some context. These processes are also often asynchronous whereas designers sometime want to collaborate in real-time, synchronously.
Nearly two years ago, for example, I looked at Cereno‘s NuVa Collaborative Working Environment (CWE) technology that enables people to share a design by putting information items such as drawings in the middle of a shared electronic space, and then allowing designers to use pen-type devices, keyboards, and built-in audio and video to capture, transmit, share and record conversations and outputs in real-time with colleagues using CWEs elsewhere. However, I was doubtful, particularly in today’s straitened economic circumstances whether this high-tech approach to design collaboration would every achieve widespread adoption in the architecture, engineering and construction sector.
OK, the all-embracing, integrated service doesn’t actually exist yet – but the elements of touch-sensitive wall screens, tablet and similar portable devices, voice and facial recognition tools, status and presence detection, Web 2.0, gesture-driven navigation (think XBox Kinect, for example), content sharing, business intelligence, and video-streaming are already available. Jonah and I talked about how this collaborative space (the words “collaboratory” and “collaboratorium” cropped up) might incorporate walls, tablets, mobiles, and tabletop devices such as Microsoft’s Surface, as well as approaches such as building information modelling (BIM) and immersive environments like Second Life. Conceivably, collaborative decision-making might take place inside a responsive environment in which the computer was effectively invisible but enabling intuitive, synchronous communication by whatever means the participants felt comfortable employing. And a record of the meeting and its outcomes could be stored in a records capsule that participants could take away (more likely, store online).
Since our conversation, IdentityMine has posted a new video on Youtube that combines snippets from several different demos to tell one comprehensive story about its work with cross-platform device integration, data visualisation, NUI, Surface, and remote collaboration:
Some of this may look completely alien to how current professionals work, but sophisticated devices are becoming increasingly commonplace in homes and offices, even in our pockets and rucksacks, and Jonah was enthusiastic about the prospect of “Millennials” (future Gen Y professionals) bringing their easy acceptance of, and demand for, such tools into the workplace. For the built environment, this, clearly, would have repercussions for both office or studio design and for how architects and other designers go about their collaborative design tasks. Still at a very conceptual stage, but very intriguing stuff, I think.