‘Transdisciplinary’ as a word brought a red highlight in my word document when I started writing this article, but has gradually become a frequent inclusion in the evolving design vocabulary.
I first came across this new term in A Little Red Book — ‘Make Design Matter’ by David Carlson. The author unfolds the nature of hybrid thinking and the unlikely marriages of disciplines through easy to understand analogies. Though, I stumbled upon this interesting thought process back then, I fully understood the depth and impact of this theory much later.
Multi-disciplinary, a prelude to the then alien concept of transdisciplinary, was something I theoretically and practically integrated in my project frameworks. I worked on branding projects, where the essence of a brand needed to percolate to every touchpoint. The visual identity created for an organisation seamlessly translated to print, space and digital mediums, with each application being carefully crafted by a team of skilled designers across disciplines. They worked with complete harmony, without losing the pulse of the brand.
This multi-disciplinary approach started at one point, branched out and culminated at a point again. Therefore, I was intrigued by this discovery that did not have one single start point and aimed to identify common threads that diverged and converged across disciplines.
Grasping and co-relating the concept through each turning page, I realized that the essence is easier understood than practiced. My recent experiences helped me fathom the difference between positioning oneself as a carrier of this concept, as opposed to integrating it in live work environments.
For me, transdisciplinary symbolizes flexibility. It is about creating a beautiful blend between disciplines that are inherently diverse. It leads to crafting eclectic and desirable solutions that are representative of a core fundamentals of one discipline, which are beautifully applied to another. The translation of this process creates offerings or solves a problem in a unique, but relevant manner.
The blurring lines between design disciplines and the free cross pollination across platforms is being gradually embraced by organizations, individuals and influencers. The design of a mobile app wireframe is borrowed from the design methodology of an industrial product, a piece of jewelry is a scaled down vision of an architect, a building lobby experience is a representation of a 3d graphic artist and smart clothing is being conceptualized by a design researcher.
The interweaving of processes across disciplines, create meeting points for cultural exchange, material exploration and visualization techniques. The outcome of this exchange thus leads to a naturally progressed end result that is not only rich in concept, but has an interesting story to narrate. Essentially, visceral metaphors that are explored at a visual, physical and emotional level.
I recently came across a digital art project that manifested the potency of this approach. The artist picked 4 editing tools from Adobe Photoshop that graphic designers used on a daily basis, and broke them down to their core functionality. He then created a series of tangible art with physical tools that could replicate the digital end finish. The final product characterized the inspiration, without taking away from the visual originality of the medium.
The integration of this approach naturally and sometimes unknowingly gets interwoven in small and mid-sized firms. For example, a design studio in an urban setup with limited human resources, a large appetite for work and an ambition to scale up follows this approach in an organic manner. The function and profile of the talent working in this firm extends into diverse roles and platforms. The transdisciplinary process helps them gather an overview of a posed brief, ideate with a defined direction and freely blend core attributes of disciplines to create a proposal.
This approach has also resulted in the culture of co-creation, where professionals from varied specialty fields come together to form project or venture specific teams. You see these groups sitting in co-working spaces, where each member with a complimenting skill set performs a defined role. The team works on a predetermined time frame and delivers the project with realistic vision and astute conviction. Anthropologists, service designers, design researchers, user experience designers, graphic designers and project managers form a power packed team to execute a tangible design project.
On the other side of the spectrum there is an evolving design landscape, where technology is at the helm of all innovation. The growing number of future looking organisations and new age start-ups have lead to the creation of specialized design disciplines that aim to fulfil specific needs. Interaction design and user experience design are recently tailored fields that perform a very explicit, but essential role in today’s companies, where the user is kept at the centre of all creation.
Multinationals, IT consulting firms and large corporations prefer this definite approach, where specialization and experience in a given area is of prime importance. There is a pronounced work profile and a clear indication of the nature of clients one works with. The scale and exposure makes one the master in his field.
These parallel approaches are natural outcomes of a fast changing world. To gain a competitive advantage, industries drive the exploration of new processes and concepts. The gradual shift stimulates the biggest of organisations to tread unknown paths, creating disruptions in sectors, like retail, telecom, hospitality, real estate, health and entertainment.
The rate and speed of change that we witness around us today will result in a melting pot of sorts, bringing together varied design approaches and creating harmonious meeting points that go beyond the ‘transdisciplinary’.
Ultimately, the goal that we define will determine the path we craft.
Thoughts put together by