Recent developments in networked 3D virtual worlds and the proliferation of high bandwidth communications technology have the potential to transform the nature of distance collaboration in professional design. There have been numerous developments in systems that support collaboration that have resulted in system architectures to support information sharing and remote communication. Whilst these initiatives have led to important advances in the enabling technologies required to support changes in global economic practices, there remains a gap in our understanding of the impact of the technologies on the working practices of the people who are the primary users of such systems.
Research into the characteristics of collaborative work can assist in our understanding of how the collaborative design process can be supported and how new technologies can be introduced into the workplace. An understanding of collaborative design includes such factors as the role that communication media play, the use of physical materials, and computer tools and the way people communicate verbally and non verbally. Only by gathering information about the rich and complex picture of collaborative design can we understand the characteristics and needs of the practitioners involved as well as those factors which contribute to their professional effectiveness.