In order to gain a better understanding of online conceptual collaborative design processes this paper investigates how student designers make use of a shared virtual synchronous environment when engaged in conceptual design. The software enables users to talk to each other and share sketches when they are remotely located. The paper describes a novel methodology for observing and analysing collaborative design processes by adapting the concepts of grounded theory. Rather than concentrating on narrow aspects of the final artefacts, emerging “themes” are generated that provide a broader picture of collaborative design process and context descriptions. Findings on the themes of “grounding – mutual understanding” and “support creativity” complement findings from other research, while important themes associated with “near-synchrony” have not been emphasised in other research. From the study, a series of design recommendations are made for the development of tools to support online computer-supported collaborative work in design using a shared virtual environment
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