Interdisciplinarity in Design Education

Lauren McDermott, Prasad Boradkar, Renu Zunjarwad
The Design School, Arizona State University


Lauren McDermott
Prasad Boradkar
Renu Zunjarwad
The Design School, Arizona State University

This paper examines benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration and it’s role in university pedagogy. A variety of social, technological, and economic factors have been rapidly changing our world, and this has reshaped processes of new product development. Contemporary professional design practice is highly collaborative, it occurs across continents, and requires advanced knowledge of multiple disciplines. If we are to train design students to be able to operate successfully in the profession, we need to give them the tools that they can use to respond to these shifting perspectives. Design education needs to prepare designers to be able to function fluently in interdisciplinary teams to tackle the challenges they will face in the future. In addition to providing them the knowledge and skills needed to operate as effective designers, we also need to train them to be able to work in cross-functional teams.

Four examples of interdisciplinary collaborations conducted at The Design School at Arizona State University are described. In each case, there is a unique make up of teams, the length of collaboration varies, and the nature of the projects undertaken is different. Each of these interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, have presented a variety of benefits as well as challenges from an educational perspective. Student teams working together in figuring out solutions, making tradeoffs and managing the outcomes of the project builds independence and leadership skills and can be extremely beneficial when students graduate and start working in the industry. Transdisciplinary projects serve as a microcosm of the work environment, and can therefore be beneficial from an employment perspective. However, managing cross-functional teams is by no means easy for faculty. It requires a broad as well as deep understanding of the content in a variety of disciplines, and special team-building skills are required.