Fostering Effective Collaborative Partnerships in a Retail Design Studio

Presented by: Matthew Holmes-Dallimore and Liam Colquhoun

This proposal revolves around scholarship of teaching and learning with emphasis on retail design and branded environments. The authors established, through pedagogic experience, collaboration as a critical course element, with partners from industry as well as other design programs contributing to the studio experience.
Retail Design is an inherently cross-disciplinary field. The unified, holistic approach to brand-related projects necessitates a collaborative approach, which can lead to very specific challenges.
Our proposed report uses three case studies of different collaborative models to highlight these challenges, and illustrates how different approaches to the pedagogical process can help support collaboration and successfully navigate potential problems.
“Individuality is prized in Design because it is seen to be a creative and personal endeavour. This however is not reflected in professional practice as designers often find themselves working in teams with other designers as well as non-designers.”
(Yee, McKelvey & Jefferies, 2006)
The undergraduate design studio experience often supports an individualistic or ‘elitist’ approach. Students are often eager to work alone on a project and submit a solution that represents a personal vision. Getting the students outside of their ‘comfort zone’, working with partners from different fields/levels of expertise/cultural backgrounds is a more realistic reflection of the industry they are training for.
Secondly, the CIDA professional standards 2014, states as standard 5: “Entry-level interior designers engage in multidisciplinary collaboration.” The introductory or exploratory nature of sophomore studio projects together with the capstone requirements of Senior studio projects leave a fairly short window of opportunity to provide the student with projects rooted in real world experience.
The presentation focuses on three case studies of collaborative projects, undertaken during the Retail Design Studio, over three different academic years, with corresponding models of collaboration that were developed to optimize the experience for all participants.
The three kinds of collaborative partnerships profiled in case study are:

  1. Industry - Where the partner is a commercial, interdisciplinary design firm.
  2. Internal - Where the partner is another department from within our institution, such as Graphic Design or Communications.
  3. External - Where the partner is a program from an overseas university.

The corresponding case studies we propose to discuss were collaborations with:

  1. Fitch, an international design firm specializing in Retail Design.
  2. The graphic design department of our own institution.
  3. An interior architecture program of a Scottish design school.

Approximately 20 students participated from our studio, with similar numbers participating from partner programs and departments in the second and third case study examples.
An obvious obstacle to collaborative endeavors is that of communication. We found that the use of technology as a collaborative tool, while effective as a way to record interaction, was limited as a means of real-time group ideation, echoing the sentiment of Schneider (2006), who referred to existing systems as “unsystematic mode[s] of collective learning processes.”
Cultural misunderstandings were also a reflection of the students’ unfamiliarity with the dynamic. While we did our best to respond to these circumstances, we also recognized the importance of the students experiencing and negotiating these occurrences themselves as part of their learning experience.

Other findings will be shared with conference attendees. We also intend to showcase, as part of our presentation, the project briefs as they were conceived, evidence of the projects in practice with specific strategies employed and examples of submitted outcomes from participants.


  • CIDA Accreditation Standards 2014. (n.d.) Retrieved from
  • Yee, J; McKelvey, K & Jefferies, E. (2009). Helping design educators foster collaborative learning amongst design students, in Iridescent-Icograda Journal of Design Research, 1(1), 52-63.
  • Schneider, F. (2007) Collaboration - Some thoughts concerning new ways of learning and working together, in Academy, ed. by Angelika Nollert, Irit Rogoff, Bart De Baere, Yilmaz, Frankfurt: Revolver Verlag.


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