Networked Design Practice

Designers place great value on the importance of face-to-face meetings and workshops, especially during the ideation and analysis stages of the design process. At face value, it seems that the work of designers is inextricably bound to the places in which they work. However, the impact of technology on the field of design has dramatically changed the ways in which designers and design firms work. This paper reports on the emergence of a networked design practice, which is less about the ability to do design work virtually and, rather, more about new configurations of people and organizations that would not be possible without technologies. Based on a two-year National Science Foundation funded study of collaboration with designers and design educators in four countries, we describe four typologies of this networked design practice. While, for the most part, designers did not report the use of any novel information technologies to perform their work, the socio-technical arrangements of their work have changed dramatically. Specifically, we outline the following four typologies: design firms networking with other design firms to form alliances, consortiums and collaborations; design firms networking with employees and clients; design educators networking with their peers; and, design educators and activists networking with employees that they mentor and/or supervise for the purpose of time-shifting. One extremely counterintuitive example of these emergent, networked organizational forms in the design field is a company that is deliberately located in a country in which it has no employees and no clients. Information technology has enabled a range of new socio-technical practices across a wide variety of industries. The design field is no different, however, the ways in which these practices have shaped design work is unique and highly contextual.

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