DS 110: Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2021), VIA Design, VIA University in Herning, Denmark. 9th -10th September 2021

Year: 2021
Editor: Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik; Buck, Lyndon
Author: Mattioli, Francesca (1); Calvo Ivanovic, Ingrid (1,2)
Series: E&PDE
Institution: 1: Politecnico di Milano, Italy; 2: Departamento de Diseño, Universidad de Chile, Chile
Section: Research in Design and Engineering Education Practice
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2021.7
ISBN: 978-1-912254-14-9


Due to the extensive practice of collaborative design-based learning and the increasing cultural plurality of design courses, the theme of cross-cultural teamwork in Design Education is becoming relevant. The complexity beneath collaborative learning experiences is often amplified by cultural and language barriers that are sometimes difficult to overcome. Literature shows that students’ critical reflection on teamwork experience through structured activities of team, self- and peer evaluation can provide a space for students to ask themselves relevant questions and to discuss together with the team about each one’s reflections. A guided sharing of personal perspectives on teamwork reveals to students the existence of multiple viewpoints and perceptions and supports an increasing mutual understanding and sensitivity. Besides, self and team reflection enhances the learning experience, by providing a space to improve teamwork and for individuals to reflect on their own hard and soft skills. Through these activities, students are therefore actively engaged in improving their collective and individual learning trajectories. However, it’s not always easy for everybody to share their thoughts and feelings regarding teamwork. This becomes even harder when done using a foreign language (i.e. English, as lingua franca in academic contexts). Cultural and language barriers could constitute an obstacle for students during these activities. Moreover, the current Covid-19 pandemic emergency has increased the implementation of distance learning, adding a further level of complexity for culturally plural teamwork in design-based courses. The urge for inclusive and culturally-sensitive tools for team, peer and self-evaluation has brought us to explore visual communication as an approach to support learners to face these instances. Visual communication principles, mainly colour and shape, are a shared language among designers that can activate the dialogue inside the team. The paper presents the development and application of a colour-based tool, the Teamwork Colour Matrix (TCM), that has been qualitatively tested within culturally plural (i.e. international, interdisciplinary) design-based courses. The tool was designed with the idea that colours can take on very different associations for each individual and therefore can leave more freedom of expression, especially when it comes to evaluating the way the team worked. Students intuitively coded their experience (e.g. alignments, misunderstandings, perceptions) in relation to the different moments of teamwork and represented it inside of the TCM by using eight given colours. Finally, they presented the TCM to teammates sharing their thoughts or feelings and building together a common understanding of the lived experience. The results showed that students were able to evaluate their experiences by using the TCM and that each of them effectively expressed her point of view about a shared lived experience; the communication through colours enhanced the nuances of different narratives to tell the same story. The test of the TCM shows that even novice designers could communicate complex messages and feelings by using a language based on colours, and that further development of visual communication tools could represent a useful resource for design teachers, students and, possibly, practitioners to overcome communication issues in culturally plural design teams.

Keywords: culturally plural teams, design-based learning, visual communication, peer evaluation, self-evaluation


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