Bridging Social Networking and Professional Practice: A Catalyst for Professional Development and Integrated Design Practice

Leigh Lally

Virginia Tech


Social networking has quickly become synonymous with professional development. The architecture and design industry has the opportunity to harness this movement in new and creative ways in its drive toward integrated design practices. Integrated design practice by definition must serve the individual design discipline while engaging in a community of practice toward a common project goal. (1) This research initiative is spurred by leaders in the field who indicate that a swift transformation to integrated design practice is required in the discipline in order for architecture and design practice to remain relevant in today’s global economy. Bridging architectural and design research and environmental graphic design provide the opportunity for both a broad and a distinct view of integrated design practice. Current research can inform the environmental graphic design discipline of best practices that promote excellence in design and professional practice as well as multi-disciplinary collaboration as an EGD core competency. As a researcher and practitioner, I am excited to engage the EGD community in dialog about innovative venues for knowledge sharing toward professional development and integrated design practices. As a campus designer and planner charged with EGD and the wayfinding master plan for the university, I understand the need for multi-disciplinary collaboration at a project level, as well as the challenges of timely professional development in a rapidly changing field. As a PhD candidate, my research focuses on harnessing social networking as a vehicle for collaborative learning which can be applied both at the design industry level as well as at the scale of an individual discipline such as environmental graphic design.


The goal of my research initiative is to develop a catalyst to transform architecture and design practice from a traditional model that operates with limited participant interaction to a more dynamic model of integrated practice and project delivery. Leading architects advocate that revolutionary change is necessary to remain effective in today’s global economy and that this can best be achieved through integrated design practice. While the AIA knowledge community has designated this a primary focus for the field (2), an innovative solution for timely and effective knowledge transfer at a discipline-wide scale does not currently exist. The traditional broad dissemination of knowledge through professional membership meetings and yearly conferences does not provide for inclusion of the collaborative design team of project stakeholders, nor does it support the rapid change that is required. This research seeks to engage the design team stakeholders in actively contributing to the transformation of practice and proposes that organizational learning through a socially networked community of practice would provide the catalyst required for integrated design practice to take hold in the industry. The outcome of the research will be an integrated practice collaboration model for knowledge sharing.


This research is primarily qualitative in its holistic focus and interpretive approach. As a formative evaluation toward an innovative solution, the subject matter does not allow for standardized measures of comparison. As a result, this research follows a multi-method focus drawn from different areas of the social sciences including the organization behavior and learning disciplines as well as the human computer interaction discipline, which have developed effective methods for knowledge transfer. As qualitative research, human subjects inform the study within the context of their own environment and, in the case of this research, for their own potential benefit as a proposition for intervention. The research strategy draws upon the design industry through a user-centered design philosophy to harness the discipline’s knowledge by actively engaging key stakeholders in a formative evaluation using the Delphi Method. The Delphi method can be characterized as a process of structuring group communications between people with specific knowledge in order to develop forecasts in response to current issues. The process involves using an iterative feedback technique through a series of questionnaires and controlled feedback to develop consensus between experts dealing with complex problems. The principal mode of analysis will be a matrix of the disciplines needs paired with expert assessment and recommendations for technological intervention from which a model can developed and presented to the stakeholders for validation.

Originating from the Greek Oracle at Delphi, the modern concept was created as a means of forecasting new technologies by the Rand Corporation. The Delphi method has since been used extensively in many different fields including medicine, public administration, education, and technology. The rationale for the development of the Delphi method is that, in the absence of established findings for emergent domains, capturing and synthesizing the opinions of experts allows for an unbiased unified perspective. It tends to be used in evaluation where there is significant domain expertise and new organizational or technological innovations are lacking but are needed. In business forecasting, it has been applied successfully and with high accuracy compared to unstructured forecast methods (5).

Context is an important consideration in deciding to use the Delphi method. It has proven useful for large organizations where experts are remotely located and it is cost prohibitive to travel. The development and use of computer supported and web-based Delphi methods have paved the way for improved process, ease of use, and potentially more dynamic results. Experts are invited to contribute, sometimes receiving a stipend for their participation if the contribution itself isn’t enough of a draw. They are selected because of their knowledge or opinion surrounding the particular issue. The use of a facilitator structures the flow and interactions of the participants throughout the process often solving any potential problems of group dynamics. The facilitator coordinates the process of focused questioning and collecting contributions from the panel of experts. These responses are collected and synthesized and highlight common and conflicting viewpoints. The consolidated response is then distributed to the group for further comment and each participant has the opportunity to revise their own statements based on the responses of others or the progress of the panel as a whole. Often there are only one or two more rounds of questioning and response needed to gain consensus from the group on the particular issue. Anonymity of the participants provides unbiased group communication allowing for opinions to be more freely expressed by minimizing the “bandwagon effect” often caused by apparent authority and/or conformity the group.

The Delphi is primarily used to facilitate the formation of a group judgment and is especially used in forward planning to establish a hypothesis about how scenarios are likely to develop. It has been widely used to generate forecasts surrounding technology since it provides insight into the user’s opinions and viewpoints needed to identify priorities and design appropriate scenarios and applications.


This research focuses on harnessing innovative information technologies to address the organizational learning needs of the architecture and design discipline. The literature review focuses on the intersections of these three areas of study. 

Imagine a world where all communications throughout the process are clear, concise, open, transparent, and trusting; where designers have full understanding of the ramifications of their decisions at the time the decisions are made; where facilities managers, end users, contractors and suppliers are all involved at the start of the design process; where processes are outcome driven and decisions are not made solely on first cost basis; where risk and reward are value-based, appropriately balanced among all team members over the life of a project; and where the profession delivers higher quality design that is sustainable and responsive. This is the future perfect vision of Integrated Practice. (6)


Integrated design practice is a collaborative design methodology emphasizing knowledge integration in the development of a holistic design. The underpinnings for integrated design practices are in the “whole building design” approach. By viewing a building system interdependently as opposed to its separate elements (site, structure, systems and use), this approach facilitates sustainable design practices. The integrated design process requires multidisciplinary collaboration, including key project life cycle stakeholders and design professionals, from conception to completion. Decision making protocols and complimentary design principles must be established early in the process in order to satisfy the goals of multiple stakeholders while achieving the overall project objectives. The understanding of integrated design has evolved in conjunction with the rise of multidisciplinary design firms and is now being used as a term to describe a collaborative design process.


This movement toward multidisciplinary collaboration and sharing of knowledge in the design process has manifested by necessity in architecture and in other design fields over the past decade. Innovative companies, such as IDEO (providers of products, services, and environments), have built their reputation in the marketplace as leaders based on their hands-on, innovative, and participatory design methodologies, including interaction design, broadening the definition of integrated design beyond “green.” There are similar design methodologies in the development of new technologies within the Human Computer Interaction discipline, including user-centered interaction design.

Many individuals already have on-the-go access to unprecedented amounts of real- time information through a variety of hand-held, satellite-linked devices. Simultaneously, the built environment is being outfitted with interactive displays and smart building features. The prevalence of these technologies and emergence of “tech-ubiquity” has the potential to drastically improve the richness and accessibility of our built environment. Synergy between our actions and electronically mediated interactions will inevitably affect the way the community uses and interacts in public spaces.

The architecture and environmental graphic design professions can inform the rapid transformation to “tech-ubiquity” in the built environment through its collaborative and innovative design practices. The field of human-computer interaction shares similar design methodologies including “effective use” and user-centered interaction design. Both fields are rooted by social and physical context-based objectives such as user-centered design and innovative design techniques including, interaction design:

User-Centered Design is both a design philosophy and a process intended to ensure that the technology is designed around how people need or want to work instead of requiring that they adapt their work to accommodate the platform or system. It is a multi-phased iterative process involving the end user at all stages of the design and including multiple tests of the interfaces to see both how the users think they will use the technology compared with actual use.

Interaction design is the means to embody the software of places, according to Malcolm McCullough, Digital Ground (7). An architect who is equally familiar with technology, he provides a theory which suggests that interaction design has evolved to a state which serves both pervasive computing and architecture as they unite in our physical environments. McCullough is a proponent of enabling ubiquitous computing to occur in concert with architecture and design through interdisciplinary context- based design initiatives. He warns that if architects and developers of pervasive technology don’t take the leap and join forces, then the new discipline will be left to technocrats and remain void of usability and design consideration.

As the appropriateness of the technology becomes forefront, design must be more intentional. McCullough’s focus on the elements of interaction design, as a tool for successful integration of technology into the social and physical environment, offers a shared point of departure for the future of ubiquitous computing. IDEO is a leader in the practice of interaction design, developed by co-founder, Bill Moggridge. An evolution of interface design, interaction design is now used by multiple disciplines interested in the usability and experience of an object or a system. Interaction design follows a process of iterations in which design solutions can be generated quickly and tested with the users. Similar to community design for “effective use,” interaction design requires design research and concept development, storyboarding and schematics as well as concept testing with the stakeholders prior to implementation. With the advent of computers, technology has become the only truly interactive product.

The field of human computer interaction practices social computing techniques such as interaction design, usability engineering and interface design methodologies with a focus on usability. They follow analogous design paths including the identification of the project goals, the stakeholders and the specific project requirements. There are many similarities in the process of designing the built environment and designing technology which can facilitate a user-centered approach for “effective use” of technology. Through multi-disciplinary collaboration and integrated design practices, these methodologies can be adapted for use in designing and planning for community-based pervasive computing in the built environment and in urban spaces. The environmental graphic design discipline will need to play a significant role in shaping the manifestation of ‘tech-ubiquity’ in the built environment to ensure usability and design.


In the first stages of my graduate research I sought to investigate integrated design practices through a unique project oriented course with Mitzi Vernon, an Associate Professor of Industrial Design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech. In addition to more than 15 years of teaching experience, she holds a Master of Architecture from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science in Engineering from Stanford University. As the principal investigator and originator of the project, Phoebe’s FieldTM, she was awarded two grants from the National Science Foundation to design a traveling science museum exhibition for middle school aged children about the physics of fields.

By offering the project as a special study course through the Architecture department and the Computer Science department, Mitzi Vernon assembled an interdisciplinary student team to do the preliminary planning phase of the work. Involving commercial and public partners in design, use and evaluation, the advisors and consultants on the project included experts in education technology, science exhibition design, and mechanical and electrical engineering. The team included Virginia Tech faculty from industrial design, architecture, instructional technology and computer science. The project team defined the parameters for the exhibit design and developed concepts as part of a submission for a second phase grant to the NSF to construct an exhibition that would visit six museums across the U.S. over a four year period. This interdisciplinary project team, composed of students, faculty and professionals, created a project plan which highlights multidisciplinary collaboration in the design process.

This workshop-oriented course served as a model for multidisciplinary collaboration encompassing science education, environmental psychology and technology, as well as architectural and industrial design. A year-long endeavor, I worked as one of a 12- member interdisciplinary student team on the development of the exhibition concepts for submission to the NSF while using the experience as a member of an interdisciplinary design team as a case study for my research. I facilitated two surveys, one during the course of the project and one as a project review at the completion of the planning phase, followed by a post-project debriefing. This data contributed to my master degree in architecture and has resulted in two publications:

  • Planning Phoebe’s Field(TM), a case study: multidisciplinary collaboration and integrated design practices in the development of a children’s science exhibition’ was published through the American Institute of Architects Case Studies Initiative in March 2007. (9)
  • Planning Phoebe’s Field: An analysis of the characteristics of an effective collaborative student design project” was accepted for presentation in a paper session at the 2007 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference. (10)

The Phoebe’s Field project story and the project team’s reflections on multidisciplinary collaboration in the design process provide many lessons for both academia and practitioners. Indicative of the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration, team members were confronted by differing ontologies, in terms of discourse and modes of operation. For example, those trained as engineers often expect one solution to a design challenge whereas designers are taught through ideation that there can be many. Collaboration efforts with remote design team members was challenging and, although supported by file sharing and video conferencing, some remote team members felt excluded. The study showed that collaboration was most effective when a team is given a clear set of goals, that inclusion early on in the process was critical for team cohesiveness, and that face to face interaction was more inclusive, reduced confusion and produced faster results. Overall, the findings of the case study showed that, given strong leadership, a multidisciplinary team can produce innovative designs through integrated design practices.


BIM, Building Information Modeling is an emerging area of technology that is set to rapidly change the architecture and design industry. BIM is transforming how buildings are designed and constructed and ultimately managed. Architects, designers, contractors, engineers, facility managers and end-users can benefit from its implementation, however, it has been slow to be adopted in the industry and realize its full potential. As such, the National BIM Standard Committee, a committee of the National Institute of Building Sciences created a charter to identify a unified business strategy for the use of BIM in the industry. BIM is primarily being employed by architectural and construction management firms who have a financial incentive to use it on their project. However, there is growing interest especially from those involved in designing for Hi-T ech facilities including labs, healthcare, higher education and government facilities.

A building process lifecycle is not a strictly linear process but is a primarily cyclical process with feedback and cycle-to-cycle knowledge accumulation. The best representation of the building process lifecycle is therefore believed to be a business process helix with a central knowledge core and external nodes representing process suppliers and external consumers. Between these three elements exists information interchange “synapses” which require exchange rules and agreements. (11)

Current research is fragmented between BIM vendors, design and construction firms and academic institutions. Lacking a comprehensive approach to BIM research and development in the industry, a consortium emerged and, in collaboration with Virginia Tech, a research proposal was developed. The resulting research group, BIM for High Tech Facility Life-Cycles, is a committee of BIM experts representing the International Institute for Sustainable Labs, National Institute for Building Science/ buildingSMARTalliance and Virginia Tech including facilities managers, architects and designers, and academics. This coalition has organized a program to develop a Research Framework for Building Information Modeling. The investigation involves three Framework Committees; Tool Development, Best Practices and Information Clearinghouse.

The effort is exemplary of the challenges of integrated design practice between disciplines as well as the need for timely professional development and organizational learning. It also highlights the challenges of research effort itself. Current modes for gaining consensus from committee members who are remotely located and from disparate disciplines primarily involved email exchanges punctuated by the periodic doodle poll to set up a conference call. The steering committees meeting at an annual conference, Facility Fusion 2012, allowed for the face to face required for the effort to progress significantly and in addition, generated significant interest in conference attendees. The charge of the research group is the development of a survey for dissemination to a broad list serve of 20-30,000 members of interested professional organizations.

The committee realizes that the industry lacks knowledge of BIM to the degree that there needs to be an educational awareness component which precedes strategic development. Additionally, they seek to confirm the subjects of the research study and their assumption that those interested in BIM are involved in high-tech projects. As such, the survey is designed to collect demographic and background information about the individuals discipline and area of work and to provide educational resources and ask the respondents to show their level of awareness and interest accordingly.

The intent is to disseminate the findings at the various consortium conferences in the fall and invite further discussion both face to face and through social networking avenues. Given a sample group of representative experts drawn from the study, the Delphi Method can then be employed in forward planning for BIM in the industry. Social networking tools for organizational learning and continual professional development in the area of BIM need to be evaluated as a means of rapid dissemination in the industry.

When Vienna was being built at the turn of the century, its leaders and planners were attributing its future greatness to qualities of “Memory and Prophecy.” Their hope for a great future city was to be realized by melding the comfort of their traditions with the excitement of the new. In any continue rich environment, communication has to occur by referencing exiting knowledge, engaging one’s audience and mutually exploring and discovering new ground. (12)


This effort could serve as a catalyst for integrated design practice through timely and effective dissemination of knowledge to the discipline through social networking. This body of work also has the potential to contribute to social science and human computer interaction research surrounding both the use of the Delphi method and the use of social networking for knowledge transfer and professional development. The subject extends the range of existing research from the enterprise level to a discipline- wide level, paving the way for further study of knowledge systems and behavior.

Through literature review and preliminary investigation, I have determined that social networking is situated to support integrated design practices. The emerging socially networked communities of practice will shape and develop best practices for their individual disciplines within the architecture and design industry. A social networking knowledge sharing venue must be geared for and reach the multifaceted participants of the integrated design movement by drawing upon the knowledge capital of the practice as a whole. Foremost, the venue must encourage broad participation by engaging the practitioners through relevant and beneficial topics to their areas of interest by providing information and learning opportunities and creating opportunities for engagement. The function of the venue must allow for a community of practice to freely emerge, supporting remote global teams and partnerships. As an interactive open and inclusive social network it must allow for participants to share methods of practice and collaborate on projects, to build trust and to share lessons learned, or even to find new job opportunities. As a repository of knowledge, stories of practice and artifacts must be readily accessible and understandable by all stakeholders. Providing this type of venue requires an innovative look at how existing structures can be enhanced or how new ideas can be generated to facilitate knowledge sharing beyond the organizational level. A formative evaluation will allow stakeholders to lead the evolution of social networking which supports professional development as a catalyst for discipline-wide realization of integrated design practices.


  1. AIA/ AIA CC, Integrated Project Delivery: A guide, AIA/ AIA California Council, November 2007.
  2. Cramer, James P., Re-designing Collaboration, Design Intelligence, July 1, 2007, Greenway Communications, 2007, designing_collaboration/
  3. Armano, David, Edelman 2010,, collaboration diagram, May 17, 2012.
  4., Fortean Picture Library, Painting depicting Aegeus of Athens consulting the Oracle of Delphi, May 17, 2012.
  5. Green, Armstrong, and Graefe, Methods to Elicit Forecasts from Groups, Delphi and Prediction Markets Compared, Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting (2007).
  6. Strong, Norman, FAIA, Report on Integrated Practice, American Institute of Architects, Chair, Integrated Practice Discussion Group, 2007.
  7. McCullough, Malcolm, (2004), Digital Ground, Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  8. Truman, Fred,, march 16, 2010, 2009-2010 Fred Truman, May 17, 2012.
  9. Lally, Leigh; Cennamo, Kathy; McGrath, Margarita; Moulton, Clay; Vernon, Mitzi, Planning Phoebe’s Field, a case study: multidisciplinary collaboration and integrated design practices in the development of a children’s science exhibition, American Institute of Architects, Case Studies Initiative, March 2007.
  10. Cennamo, Kathy; Lally, Leigh; Vernon, Mitzi, “Planning Phoebe’s Field: an analysis of the characteristics of an effective collaborative student design project”, AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference, 2007.
  11., National BIM Standard (NBIMS), helical building process lifecycle model,, 2006, May 17, 2012.
  12. Foy, Richard, Architecture of Change: Design Adjusts to the Age of Flux, Design Intelligence, November 8, 2006.