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Design Thinking

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Measuring design performance for effective support of team coaching and redesign efforts has been difficult to near impossible. This is because design is context dependent and takes place in different environments. Virtual reality gives us as designers, the opportunity to construct and simulate different environments, as coaches, the opportunity to improve our effectiveness in different design scenarios, and as researchers, the possibility to measure design performance and factors that affect it.

Working with scholars at the Center for Design Research, this possibility was investigated experimentally in a series of studies. Two environments were constructed – one corresponding to a garage in a rural setting, and the other, to a conference room on one of the floors of a skyscraper in the city. Teams of three designers were networked with full head and hand tracking in the experiment. They worked on two product concept generation tasks and two decision making tasks, while being situated in each of the spaces. Several types of data were collected including video records, screen records, participant questionnaires, and position data of the VR headset and the hand controllers. Analysis is ongoing, but we are creating an algorithm that can quantify productive design thinking based on synchrony.

Synchrony in the context of person-to-person communication is the time-dependent aspects of a given interaction. In formulating a response to someone, you’re more likely to respond to what they say a few seconds ago rather than a few minutes. Synchrony exists in nonverbal communication as well. For example, if two people are talking and one of them crosses her arms, the other becomes slightly more likely to cross his arms too. Greater synchrony tends to correlate with a range of positive outcomes, including better teamwork, more pro-sociality, and higher creativity. By tracking the movement of participants’ heads and hands, virtual reality is a useful technology to study synchrony. In this way, our current line of research provides insights about both design thinking and nonverbal behavior.

For more information

Mark Miller ( on our design thinking research

This research has been funded by the Hassno Plattner Institute of design.