Skip to main content Accessibility help

A qualitative study of collaborative stimulation in group design thinking

  • Jonathan Sauder (a1) and Yan Jin (a1)


It is often assumed in both education and industry that collaboration encourages creativity. This assumption is explored by investigating the influence of designers’ interactions on creativity-relevant thinking processes by extending creative cognition to the group design context. It is proposed that sharing design entities and questions stimulates creativity-relevant thinking processes through four types of collaborative stimulation. Specific patterns are hypothesized to exist between each type of collaborative stimulation and thinking processes. A case study was conducted to determine whether the hypothesized types and patterns of collaborative stimulation exist. The results were analyzed using a directed coding approach and collaborative retrospective protocol analysis, which enable capturing both internal thoughts and external interactions with minimal interference to collaboration. The results indicate that the identified types of collaborative stimulation are observable and that they have recognizable patterns with stimulated thinking processes. Stimulation occurring through design entity questioning had the strongest relationship with generative thinking processes. Although creativity-relevant generative processes are stimulated by collaborative activity, this does not necessarily mean that collaboration results in a more creative product. However, these patterns can be used in future work to develop methods and interventions for promoting group idea generation and improving group creativity.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A qualitative study of collaborative stimulation in group design thinking
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A qualitative study of collaborative stimulation in group design thinking
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A qualitative study of collaborative stimulation in group design thinking
      Available formats


Distributed as Open Access under a CC-BY 4.0 license (

Corresponding author

Email address for correspondence:


Hide All
Amabile, T., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J. & Herron, M. 1996 Assessing the work environment for creativity. The Academy of Management Journal 39 (5), 11541184.
Artzt, A. F. & Armour-Thomas, E. 1992 Development of a cognitive-metacognitive framework for protocol analysis of mathematical problem solving in small groups. Cognition and Instruction 9 (2), 137175.
Benami, O. & Jin, Y.2002 Creative stimulation in conceptual design. Proceedings of ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computer and Information in Engineering Conference, 1–13.
Brereton, M., Cannon, D., Mabogunje, A. & Leifer, L. J. 1997 Collaboration in design teams: how social interaction shapes the product. Analysing Design Activity, 1st edn. (ed. Cross, N., Christiaans, H. & Dorst, K.). Wiley.
Brown, V., Tumeo, M., Larey, T. S. & Paulus, P. B. 1998 Modeling cognitive interactions during group brainstorming. Small Group Research 29 (4), 495526.
Chiu, I. & Shu, L. 2010 Potential limitations of verbal protocols in design experiments. Presented at the ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computer and Information Engineering Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. ASME.
Chusilp, P. & Jin, Y. 2006 Impact of mental iteration on concept generation. Journal of Mechanical Design 128 (1), 1425.
Cross, N., Christiaans, H. & Dorst, K.(Eds) 1997 Analysing Design Activity, 1st edn. Wiley.
Cross, N. & Clayburn Cross, A. 1995 Observations of teamwork and social processes in design. Design Studies 16 (2), 143170.
Diehl, M. & Stroebe, W. 1987 Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: toward the solution of a riddle. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (3), 497509.
Dong, A. 2005 The latent semantic approach to studying design team communication. Design Studies 26 (5), 445461.
Dong, A., Kleinsmann, M. S. & Deken, F 2013 Investigating design cognition in the construction and enactment of team mental models. Design Studies 34 (1), 133.
Dugosh, K. L., Paulus, P. B., Roland, E. J. & Yang, H.-C. 2000 Cognitive stimulation in brainstorming. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79 (5), 722735.
Eris, O.2003 Asking generative design questions: a fundamental cognitive mechanism in design thinking. DS 31: Proceedings of ICED 03, the 14th International Conference on Engineering Design, Stockholm.
Eris, O. 2004 Effective Inquiry for Innovative Engineering Design. Spring Science + Business Media; Retrieved from
Finke, R. A., Ward, T. B. & Smith, S. M. 1996 Creative Cognition: Theory, Research, and Applications. MIT Press.
Gallupe, R. B., Dennis, A. R., Cooper, W. H., Valacich, J. S., Bastianutti, L. M. & Nunamaker, J. F. 1992 Electronic brainstorming and group size. The Academy of Management Journal 35 (2), 350369.
Gero, J. S. & Tang, H.-H. 2001 The differences between retrospective and concurrent protocols in revealing the process-oriented aspects of the design process. Design Studies 22 (3), 283295.
Glynn, S. M. & Takahashi, T. 1998 Learning form analogy-enhanced science text. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 35 (10), 11291149.
Goldschmidt, G. 1995 The designer as a team of one. Design Studies 16 (2), 189209.
Goldschmidt, G. 2011 Avoiding design fixation: transformation and abstraction in mapping from source to target. The Journal of Creative Behavior 45 (2), 92100.
Gruber, H. E. 1981 Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity. University of Chicago Province.
Guilford, J. P. 1967 The Nature of Human Intelligence, 1st edn. McGraw–Hill.
Hollan, J., Hutchins, E. & Kirsh, D. 2000 Distributed cognition: toward a new foundation for human-computer interaction research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI) 7 (2), 174196.
Holsapple, C. W. & Joshi, K. D. 2002 A collaborative approach to ontology design. Communications of the ACM 45 (2), 4247.
Hsieh, H.-F. & Shannon, S. E. 2005 Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research 15 (9), 12771288.
Jin, Y. & Benami, O. 2010 Creative patterns and stimulation in conceptual design. AI EDAM 24 (Special Issue 02), 191209.
Jin, Y. & Geslin, M. 2010 A study of argumentation based negotiation in collaborative engineering design. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis & Manufacturing (AIEDAM) 24 (2), 3548.
Kvan, T. 2000 Collaborative design: what is it? Automation in Construction 9 (4), 409415.
Le Dantec, C. A. & Do, E. Y.-L. 2009 The mechanisms of value transfer in design meetings. Design Studies 30 (2), 119137.
Lloyd, P. 2009 Ethical imagination and design. Design Studies 30 (2), 154168.
Michalko, M. 2001 Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Random House Digital, Inc.
Mullen, B., Johnson, C. & Salas, E. 1991 Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: a meta-analytic integration. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 12 (1), 323.
Nijstad, B. A. & Stroebe, W. 2006 How the group affects the mind: a cognitive model of idea generation in groups. Personality and Social Psychology Review 10 (3), 186213.
Osborn, A. F. 1957 Applied Imagination: Principles and procedures of creative problem-solving. Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Pirola-Merlo, A. & Mann, L. 2004 The relationship between individual creativity and team creativity: aggregating across people and time. Journal of Organizational Behavior 25 (2), 235257.
Rohrbach, B. 1969 Creative by rules – method 635, a new technique for solving problems. Absatzwirtschaft 12, 7375.
Sarmiento, J. W. & Stahl, G. 2008 Group creativity in interaction: collaborative referencing, remembering, and bridging. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 24 (5), 492504.
Sauder, J.2013 Collaborative stimulation in team design thinking. Dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Retrieved from
Sauder, J. & Jin, Y.2012 Collaborative stimulation of analogies. Presented at the Fifth International Conference on Design Computing and Cognition, College Station, Texas. Retrieved from∼jgero/conferences/dcc12/DCC12DigitalProceedings/DigitalPoster%20pdf/Sauder.pdf.
Sauder, J. & Jin, Y. 2013 Training the participatory renaissance man: past creative experiences and collaborative design. ASME 2013 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference. ASME; Retrieved from
Sauder, J., Lian, E. & Jin, Y. 2013 The Effect of Collaborative Stimulation on Design Novelty, V005T06A009;
Sauder, J., Lian, E., Wang, B. & Jin, Y.2012 Collaborative stimulation in design: a retrospective protocol analysis approach. Design Creativity Workshop 2012, College Station, Texas.
Shah, J., Smith, S., Vargas-Hernandez, N., Gerkens, D. & Wulan, M.2003 Empirical studies of design ideation: alignment of design experiments with lab experiments. Presented at the 15th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology. Retrieved from
Shah, J., Vargas-Hernandez, N., Summers, J. & Kulkarni, S. 2001 Collaborative sketching (C-Sketch) – an idea generation technique for engineering design. The Journal of Creative Behavior 35 (3), 168198.
Shalley, C. E. & Perry-Smith, J. E. 2008 The emergence of team creative cognition: the role of diverse outside ties, sociocognitive network centrality, and team evolution. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal 2 (1), 2341.
Silvia, P. J., Wigert, B., Reiter-Palmon, R. & Kaufman, J. C. 2012 Assessing creativity with self-report scales: a review and empirical evaluation. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 6 (1), 1934.
van Someren, M. W., Barnard, Y. & Sandberg, J. 1994 The Think Aloud Method: A Practical Guide to Modelling Cognitive Processes. Academic Press, Inc. 525 B Street, Suite 1900, San Diego, CA 92101 ($48). Retrieved from
Sonnenburg, S. 2004 Creativity in communication: a theoretical framework for collaborative product creation. Creativity and Innovation Management 13 (4), 254262.
Stempfle, J. & Badke-Schaub, P. 2002 Thinking in design teams – an analysis of team communication. Design Studies 23 (5), 473496.
Taggar, S. 2002 Individual creativity and group ability to utilize individual creative resources: a multilevel model. The Academy of Management Journal 45 (2), 315330.
Tang, H. H., Lee, Y. Y. & Gero, J. S. 2011 Comparing collaborative co-located and distributed design processes in digital and traditional sketching environments: a protocol study using the function–behaviour–structure coding scheme. Design Studies 32 (1), 129.
Vargas-Hernandez, N., Shah, J. & Smith, S. M. 2010 Understanding design ideation mechanisms through multilevel aligned empirical studies. Design Studies 31 (4), 382410.
Vyas, D. & Nijholt, A.2009 Collaborative practices that support creativity in design. Retrieved from
Warr, A. & O’Neill, E. 2005 Understanding design as a social creative process. In Proceedings of the 5th Conference on Creativity & Cognition, pp. 118127. ACM;
West, M. A. 2002 Sparkling fountains or stagnant ponds: an integrative model of creativity and innovation implementation in work groups. Applied Psychology 51 (3), 355387.
Wilde, D. 2010 Personalities into teams. Mechanical Engineering; (February 2010). Retrieved from
Wiltschnig, S., Christensen, B. T. & Ball, L. J. 2013 Collaborative problem–solution co-evolution in creative design. Design Studies;
Woodman, R. W., Sawyer, J. E. & Griffin, R. W. 1993 Toward a theory of organizational creativity. The Academy of Management Review 18 (2), 293321.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed