Carnegie Mellon University

Writer and Graphic Designer Collaboration: A Case Study of Process and Product

Author: Wendie Wulff
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 1990

The goal of this research was to conduct a broad, exploratory study of writer and graphic designer collaboration that would tell us: (1) how interdisciplinary document design teams complete lengthy, non-academic tasks requiring the integration of visual and verbal content; (2) what characterizes the process such teams use to create and integrate visual and verbal content; and (3) what characterizes the drafts of verbal texts, visual and verbal texts, and the final products produced by the team. I used naturalistic observation to study the activities of a nine-member, interdisciplinary, document design team over the course of seven months as they engaged in a large-scale writing and graphic design task for a consumer electronics client. A variety of converging data collection methods were used including audio-taping meetings, observing meetings, interviewing participants, collecting participants' journals, and collecting draft and final products of work. The process analysis involved coding selections from the audio tapes for the collaborative text production activities of planning, constructing, and evaluating. The product analysis involved evaluating the quality of the group's products from four key stages in the process (the original manual sent by the client, the first verbal draft, an intermediate visual and verbal draft, and the final product) according to the visual and verbal text features employed. Results include an overview of the project history, a preliminary description of the collaborative process activities of the team, and a characterization of product quality. Three key findings were: (1) the team spent over 90% of their collaborative time planning and evaluating visual and verbal texts; (2) the most common sequence of collaborative process activities was planning, evaluating, and re-planning--as opposed to planning, constructing, evaluating, and re-constructing; and (3) the visual and verbal integrated final products were evaluated as most effective and attractive.