Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

By Rogers Hall; Naomi Miyake et al. | Go to book overview

Divisions of Labor in Computer-Assisted Design: A Comparison of Cases from Work and School

Reed Stevens University Of California, Berkeley


Abstract

This paper uses the concept of division of labor ( Strauss, 1985) to explore two design settings (a middle-school classroom and a professional architecture firm) where people use both computer and paper-based practices for designing. I report that in both settings collaborative labor is divided between designers who work on paper and draftspersons who work with computers. Reasons for this division are explored, and implications are considered for educational initiatives aimed at supporting design collaboration and learning.

Keywords --computer-assisted design, distributed cognition, ethnographic case studies


Introduction

In this paper I compare two design settings (a middle-school classroom and an architecture firm) to explore a basic question for studies of collaboration, computers and learning. How do computers, in this case computer design tools, shape the division of labor among human collaborators thereby influencing what is learned and who is learning?

A perhaps little-known aspect of professional architectural design in this age of omni-present computers frames this analysis; the phases of the overall design process that are considered by practitioners as those when 'real design' occurs happens on paper. Designs on paper are then translated into digital form using CAD (computer-aided design) programs1. During these early conceptual and schematic development design phases, architects work almost exclusively by hand on paper, using a simple but flexible package of base drawings, trace paper, scale ruler, and corresponding embodied competencies. ( Stevens, 1997)

The designing that occurs in these early phases of a professional architectural projects is high status work, usually done by principal architects (i.e. owners of firms, analogous to partners in law firms) and architects with special designation as 'designers'. In smaller firms like the one I studied, the lower status work of translating the paper documents into CAD and working out the necessary details is done by associate architects2. In larger firms, translating hand-inscribed designs into CAD usually falls to 'draftspersons', and the distinction between draftsperson and designer is a standard one in the architectural community ( Cuff, 1991; Robbins, 1994). As such, designing and computer drafting are currently regarded as two quite different kinds of work activity.

While it is common, and probably unsurprising that newer computer-based design tools have not usurped more traditional media in professional practice yet -- since the current generation of principal architects learned exclusively paper and physical model-based design -- I present a finding here that is somewhat surprising. In a middle-school classroom, where students were provided a computer program for designing, the emergent division of labor between a group of kids doing an architectural design project reproduced the

____________________
1
This was definitely the situation at the firm described in this paper and, based on informal queries, at many other firms in the region. The continued centrality of paper-based practices in engineering is discussed in Henderson ( 1991) and Hall and Stevens ( 1995). In many design fields like architecture, this situation may be changing and some analysts predict that soon computers will become the primary medium for doing design. (e.g. Mitchell and McCullough, 1995)
2
Associate architects are typically younger and much earlier in their careers than principal architects and are paid a salary rather than participating as owners.

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