Come Together: Introducing Collaborative Skills in the Design Studio

Presented by: Roberto Ventura

Motivation In Section II, Standard 5 of the 2017 Professional Standards, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation cites collaboration as an important skill for design students (CIDA, 2016). In the classroom, collaborative work generally generates greater amounts of information, stimulates creativity, heightens retention, inspires more satisfaction, and provides for greater self-reflection among students (Burke, 2011). Good collaborators are also highly sought after by employers (Blowers, 2000) who list strong collaborative skills among the most desirable traits in potential hires (Graduate Outlook Survey, 2010). As design practices like the Rockwell Group, Ghislaine Vinas, and INNOCAD continue to integrate disciplines, the ability of interior designers to collaborate across areas of expertise is increasing in importance. Question Given the collaborative nature of interior design, educators should look to develop students well-versed in it. However, scholarship about how to explicitly teach collaboration skills is almost nonexistent in the Journal of Interior Design. This absence implies that educators assume these skills are innate, thereby leaving interior design students to figure them out on their own. Since collaborative skills are not intuitive, students should benefit from directed instruction of best practices. Methods Collaborative skills were explicitly introduced to interior design students in an upper level studio in a two-part, five week sequence. In Part I, students participated in an improvisational workshop which interactively introduced collaborative basics. Subsequent studio classes began with exercises reinforcing improvisational principles, which were then supported with readings on best practices for collaboration. During in-class think-pair-share discussions, students cross-referenced these articles with their own experiences with group work, developing a common list of constructive and destructive traits. In parallel with these discussions, students embarked on a two-phase charrette. Students first developed individual 1”=1’-0” scale models of objects designed to support four individuals facing opposite directions. The studio then collaboratively organized the sixteen models and designed new pieces that linked the disparate objects, transforming the individual positions into ones supportive of groups. This initial charrette served to metaphorically and explicitly illustrate collaborative practices and their inherent challenges. In Part II, students self-selected into small groups and participated in a two-week competition charrette sponsored by the Interior Design Educator’s Council. The collaborative instruction introduced in Part I was implicitly and explicitly reinforced in these team projects. Results & Reflections In Part I, students exhibited enthusiasm for the improvisational exercises and the collective organization aspect of the project. During class discussions, student attitudes towards collaboration mirrored research findings. The second phase of the charrette was less successful in terms of output, perhaps due to overly prescriptive project parameters and an aggressive timetable, but beneficial in that it underscored collaborative pitfalls associated with poor communication. In Part II, the collaborations yielded largely positive project outcomes. Two of the six groups exhibited some dysfunction related to accountability and requested guidance from the instructor. However, the accountability measures implemented overall were widely regarded as useful in mediating this. After this instruction, students self-reported greater confidence in their collaborative skills, and they regarded their overall experience and their design project results as better than in previous group efforts.


  • Burke, Alison. 2011. “Group Work: How to Use Groups Effectively.” The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11, no. 2: 87-95.
  • Blowers, Deborah F. 2000. “Canada: The Story of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition.” In Experiential Learning Around the World: Employability and the Global Economy, edited by Norman Evans, 83- 102. London: Jessica Kingsley Publications.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation Professional Standards. 2014
  • Graduate Outlook Survey (2010). University of Canterbury.