Face-to-Wajjah: Collaborating Across Diverse Cultures Via Social Media

Presented by: Roberto Ventura, Colquhoun, Almumin, Arias

motivation Designers often work within unfamiliar contexts. Clients may be industry specialists or foreign nationals operating in globalized marketplaces. In "Ten Faces of Innovation," IDEO founder Tom Kelley, characterizes successful designers as having the ability to step outside their own experience to collaborate with people from different cultural and professional backgrounds. Kelley observes that good design often stems from an understanding of the subject and the context within which it operates. goal Second-year interior design faculty from sibling campuses of the same university developed a project linking their studio sections with the goal of nurturing their students’ abilities to understand, communicate, and collaborate with a culture different than their own. Sharing the same curriculum and philosophy but separated by seven time zones, the two campuses occupy very different cultural contexts. Over six weeks, students designed Mobile Cultural Exhibitions, vehicles for understanding and valuing cultural differences. Each MOBEX presented unique aspects of their sibling campus as a text-free, three-dimensional abstraction of place and identity. approach “Collaborative learning” results during naturally occurring social interactions (Cohen, et al, 1996), so faculty mandated Facebook, the medium through which most students communicate and interact (Sánchez, et al, 2014), as the primary collaborative platform for the studio project. Students engaged in “exclusive collaboration,” where partners worked individually and relied on others as advisors (Yee, et al, 2009). Students established intercampus Facebook groups and used them to share and discuss research about each other’s culture. They augmented this communication with weekly Skype sessions. From this foundation, students then developed individual projects. Shifting from generative to critical, the collaboration utilized Facebook as the medium over which design process was shared. Overseas colleagues reciprocated cultural and design guidance by “tagging” work with feedback. reflections Social media facilitated immediate investigations of cultural differences and design ideation. Students answered evocative and pointed cultural questions by exchanging comments, article links, and contextual images “face-to-digital face,” where their relative naivete could be quickly addressed. Perhaps due to the remoteness, Facebook allowed for more objective cultural understanding and design criticism than might have resulted in person, where students might be overly concerned about offending others. Student communication diverged from instructor implemented systems, echoing Cohen in that effective collaboration paths often spontaneously evolve (1996). This improvisation manifested itself primarily through Facebook chats, which proved more useful and reliable than Skype. Students intuited less collaborative utility to social media and exhibited less dexterity with Facebook than faculty had assumed. The ubiquity of social media may provide a low-friction entry point into collaborative technology, but its common casual usage may camouflage its organizational power. Future collaborations with Facebook may prove more fruitful if faculty explicitly demonstrate how to use this informal medium in more directed ways. It is noteworthy that some students prefer utilizing a separate 'stand-alone' repository - e.g., a blog - for their school work rather than their social network. The experience demonstrated potential for future collaborations across different cultures using social media, primarily due to the global use and familiarity of the platform. Emergent developments like Facebook Live could provide even richer communication. To facilitate team-building, faculty may wish to establish student social media connections with each other earlier in the calendar in order to provide more opportunity for them to learn informally about and from each other.


  • Sánchez, R. Arteaga, Cortijo, V. & Javedc, U. (2014). Students’ perceptions of Facebook for academic purposes. Computers & Education, 70, 138–149.
  • Cohen, L., Mannion, L. & Morrison, K. (1996). A Guide to Teaching Practice. London: Routledge.
  • Yee, J.S.R., McKelvey, K. & Jefferies, E. (2009). Helping design educators foster collaborative learning amongst design students, Iridescent-Icograda Journal of Design Research, 1(1), 52-63.