This thesis explores the nature of communication within web design businesses, specifically the support that computer mediated communication tools can provide for collaboration between designers and clients. The research seeks to understand why, despite years of research into computer-supported collaboration systems; new methods of digital communication are not in widespread use within this environment. The research question is, therefore, how can new communication tools be designed to effectively support designer-client communication within web design businesses?
The web design industry is a modern and emerging service-oriented field that focuses on the design, development and marketing of web sites, applications and media. These services are most commonly used by small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which do not have the internal skills or resources to develop their web presence. To support this work, web design businesses rely on continual and rich communication with their clients. This communication is conducted through a variety of Computer Mediated Communication tools such as email, phone calls and Skype, which are already in use by both designers and their clients. This ecosystem of general purpose tools allow clients and designers to communicate without the overheads of face-to-face meetings; however the lack of awareness and context specific functionality mean that these tools do not support the web design process as effectively as they could.
Academic and industry fields such as Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) and Social Software focus on the problems associated with designing communication tools, often focusing on how to enable new methods of communication within a specific context. While the approaches to some of these problems have been successful in enabling methods of communication in a rich and context-aware manner for social interaction, tools integrating these approaches have not yet been widely adopted by web design businesses in their day-to-day communication with clients. There are a number of reasons for this lack of adoption of new communication tools to support work processes, but prominent among them is that they compete with existing methods of communication, rather than build upon them.
A multi-staged approach is taken to address this question: understanding current practices through contextual interviews and participant observational studies and the incremental design and development of a middleware platform to facilitate the creation of new communication tools. The platform enables communication tools to build on the knowledge and processes contained within existing channels of communication, rather than attempting to replace them. The findings from these studies are synthesised to yield a set of design challenges that have been identified, and embodied within a visual representation known as the Designer-Client Communication Tool Canvas. The canvas serves two purposes: it is an encapsulation of the problems that tool designers face in creating tools for this context, and it is a guide for these tools designers to assist them in understanding the context for which they are designing.
There are a number of contributions that this research makes to the fields of CSCW and HCI. This research provides an insight into the ways in which designers and clients interact within the web design industry. Additionally, it analyses the scope of tools that are available which are either aimed at supporting this work, or tools which are already in use within the web design context. This research highlights a number of challenges for the design of technologies to support designer-client communication, in particular the problems associated with web designers adopting new technologies to support communication with clients. The thesis also provides an example of how two-way integration technologies can assist in negating these problems, as well as a number of considerations that designers of communication tools should acknowledge when designing for the web design context.