Research in Engineering Design

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 29–45

A methodology to evaluate the usability of digital socialization in ‘‘virtual’’ engineering design

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00163-007-0037-7

Cite this article as:
El-Tayeh, A., Gil, N. & Freeman, J. Res Eng Design (2008) 19: 29. doi:10.1007/s00163-007-0037-7


We develop a methodology to evaluate the usability of prototypes for supporting digital socialization within geographically dispersed, or “virtual”, engineering design teams. Socialization converts individual into group tacit knowledge to enhance collaborative work. Extant theory in computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW) underpins IDRAK, a proof-of-concept prototype of a rich Internet application to promote socialization. Our methodology employs an engineering design exercise (Delta design, as in Bucciarelli (Delta design game, MIT, Cambridge, 1994) to simulate, in a computer lab, a virtual team undertaking a project feasibility stage. We apply this methodology to evaluate the usability of IDRAK to support “virtual” four-people teams (architect, project manager, thermal and structural engineers). Our findings yield few statistically significant differences between the performance of virtual and co-located teams. The experiments suggest that IDRAK encourages individuals to work collaboratively. It allows for a leveling of status and eases communication since individuals’ accents are not an issue. However, IDRAK makes it difficult for the project manager to exercise authority and it cannot capture nuances in speech such as tone and expression. The experiments suggest that more research is needed to explore the ways to enhance the performance of virtual teams by: first, alternating between voice/video and text-based chat; second, documenting chat-based conversations; and third, enforcing communication and design process protocols.


Evaluation methodologyVirtual teamsSocializationTacit knowledge

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Business AdministrationAmerican University in DubaiDubaiUAE
  2. 2.Manchester Business SchoolThe University of ManchesterManchesterUK