Intercultural Collaboration by Design

Drawing from Differences, Distances & Disciplines Through Visual Thinking

By Kelly M. Murdoch-Kitt & Dr. Denielle J. Emans

Intercultural Collaboration by Design introduces a framework for collaborating across cultures and learning to use multicultural perspectives to address pressing global issues.

With over 30 hands-on visual thinking activities, this book will be of great interest to diverse teams from a variety of disciplines who want to enhance intercultural learning and co-working. Diverse teams will find a practical route for initiating and sustaining productive work across disciplinary and social barriers. Whether in the classroom or workplace, the activities are appropriate for a variety of collaboration contexts.

Teams can craft a plan to achieve their goals by selecting the activities that best meet their needs and interests. Anecdotes from the authors demonstrate how the activities encourage teams to embrace diverse perspectives in order to create innovative solutions.



“This book is a much needed, practical guide for teams and organizations looking to collaborate across differences. The authors’ deep appreciation for diversity helps them deliver a research-driven approach that I look forward to integrating into my own practice.”

Dr. Tiffany Jana, Founder of the TMI Portfolio of companies and author of Overcoming Bias, Erasing Institutional Bias, The B Corp Handbook 2nd edition, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion.

“This is an extraordinary book! I have never seen anything so helpful in overcoming intercultural challenges across members of work teams. It is full of wisdom and helpful exercises. It is creatively written and easy to read.”

Jeffrey S. Harrison, University Distinguished Educator, W. David Robbins Chair in Strategic Management, University of Richmond 

“Whether your team is in the workplace or the classroom, Intercultural Collaboration by Design will empower you with design-based practices adapted for multidisciplinary use to build a world where people communicate across boundaries. The book’s activities will enhance creativity, intercultural awareness, and team focus.”

Robin Landa, Distinguished Professor, Michael Graves College of Kean University

“The book is thoughtfully organized to give anyone the confidence to create welcoming collaborative environments. As our world becomes more globalized and yet more polarized, these are the skills we need to create a more inclusive and equitable world.”

Amy Bickerton, Design Researcher at Dropbox, Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts, Former Senior User Experience Designer at Amazon

“I feel very fortunate to have experienced these methods firsthand as a student—and now, with remote work becoming the new norm, I’ve been armed with a diverse toolset that will continue to enrich the collaborative thread that connects teams who are spread all over the world.”

Jessica Cook, Designer

Use Cases

See examples of how faculty are adopting and adapting visual thinking activities from Intercultural Collaboration by Design to enhance diverse collaborations in their classrooms and beyond.

IN USE: Iowa State University

Course: Global Studio
Faculty: Dr. Ben Shirtcliff & Dean Luis Gutierrez

My book was a required text within the Global Urban Design Studio course called “New Rituals: Sustainability, Resilience, and Child-Friendly Urban Design in a Global Pandemic Era in Queretaro, Mexico,” taught summer 2020 in the Master of Urban Design Program at Iowa State University in coordination with Monterrey Tech at Querétaro. The course, offered in the Urban Design Master’s program, enrolled 18 students from multiple nationalities, five different disciplines, and undergraduate and graduate status.

Iowa State: Team building alongside project work

This course incorporated many activities from Intercultural Collaboration by Design—the entire top row and several activities listed in the bottom right of this slide. (Image courtesy of Dr. Shirtcliff.)

From the syllabus:

[Global Urban Design Studio,] led by Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez and Dr. Ben Shirtcliff, in coordination with Monterrey Tech at Querétaro will focus on urban design strategies for new rituals in child-friendly, sustainable, cities that respond to our new era of global pandemics. The Global Urban Design studio aims to address the impacts of pandemics on the long-term sustainability of urban environments by adapting cities for “new rituals” that have emerged in recent months and weeks.

Following the “flatten the curve” model above and the below time of concentration models, our studio will address: What urban interventions can proactively respond to severe, biological events to sustain social, economic, and cultural life in cities?

One of the largest population impacts has been on young people, children through young adults, due to public closures—schools, libraries, amusement parks, parks, beaches, internships, study abroad. What urban interventions can foster the continued growth and development of our youngest citizens?

Activity: Teamthink Constellation

This engaging, empathy-building activity first enables participants to evaluate themselves along multiple spectrums to gauge their learning and working preferences. Then, in the second stage of the activity, all remote teammates combine their selections by plotting them along hand-drawn X and Y-axes. The resulting scatter-plot visualization, or Teamthink Constellation, enables teammates to see similarities and differences and helps teams hone in on specific factors that could become hurdles. The Constellation gives teammates a chance to talk through issues and possible solutions before differences become problematic. 

Image courtesy of Dr. Shirtcliff

Personal & Group Cultural Icebergs

Activity: Success Sketches

A Success Sketch is a visual depiction of possible futures for a team. These enable teammates to express aspirations for their work together and to get a sense of the different perspectives on the team before work begins. Framed around the idea that success should be the end result, this activity is designed so that collaborative work proceeds from a positive place. The drawings can also provide context and motivation for working through differences revealed by the Teamthink Constellation results. The post-activity discussion walks collaborators through the factors to keep in mind as they consider how to participate as a teammate in order to achieve positive outcomes

Images above courtesy of Dr. Shirtcliff

Personal & Group Cultural Icebergs

Activity: Personal & Group Cultural Icebergs

Culture is complex, comprised of many characteristics that lie below the surface, especially for those living outside of a particular culture. This activity asks participants in intercultural collaborations to reflect upon their own culture by diagramming its implicit characteristics—those that can only be known and understood by those within that culture. After working alone, groups within the same cultural context convene to discuss, compare, and combine their iceberg diagrams into a more comprehensive view.

Images above courtesy of Dr. Shirtcliff

Personal & Group Cultural Icebergs

IN USE: California College of the Arts

Course: Story Studio
Faculty: Amy Bickerton & Jake Rheinfrank

My book was a required text within the 2019 course “Story Studio,” within the Interaction Design Program at California College of the Arts (CAA) in San Francisco, California. Taught by Amy Bickerton and Jake Rheinfrank, their students—who hailed from all over the world—did the Picture Story Shuffle as an in-class activity, and later adapted the Fairytale Mashup as a collaborative project.

CCA: Fairytale Mashup | Salt & Water
CCA: Fairytale Mashup | Salt & Water

Activity: Picture Story Shuffle

A team of three students in the Story Studio course at CAA sketched simple storyboards about a personal story, then traded them with a classmate in a shuffled order. These images show each classmates’ intended story and how different partners organized and interpreted the storyboards to make sense of them.

The Picture Story Shuffle can be used not only as an icebreaker, but as a way for students to explain ideas, processes, or concepts to each other in an engaging and interactive format.

CAA: Mengyao Xiu, Yiran Jiang, Aining Wang, 2020

Images courtesy of Amy Bickerton

CCA: Picture Story Shuffle Activity

Activity: Fairytale Mashup

In the 2019 course “Story Studio,” instructors Amy Bickerton and Jake Rheinfrank, adapted the Fairytale Mashup as a project (next page). Students worked in pairs to combine different fairytales, myths, or legends together into a new story.
Teams created animatics (time-based storyboards) with audio to share their new story.

According to Bickerton, the team who created this Fairytale Mashup project, entitled “Salt & Water,” continued working together:

“They stuck together for the rest of the semester and really excelled. I think the mashup helped them make that deep connection.

Fairytale Mashup Animatic by Amaris Gil
& Amanda Liu, California College of the Arts, 2020

Images & Video courtesy of Amy Bickerton