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Design Thinking Needs A Multi-Disciplinarian

September 13, 2009


Years ago, I saw Canadian designer Bruce Mau talk at the Art Gallery of Ontario about how he had boldly assembled a team of ‘non-designers’ to design. He wanted geographers, biologists, and mathematicians on his team for the alternative, worldly perspectives they’d provide. I remembered Mau’s approach recently when I came across a Fast Company article by Dev Patnaik, founder of Jump Associates, entitled Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking. He defined ‘hydrid thinking’ as:

the conscious blending of different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo.

Patnaik was showing the success of design thinking when executed by those with additional, non-design skills such as accounting, marketing or psychology. He went on to say that:

Hybrid thinking is much more than gathering together a multidisciplinary team. Hybrid thinking is about multidisciplinary people.

Others such as interaction designer Dan Saffer, a principal at Kicker Studio, have also touched on the need for the multi-disciplinarian in design. In defining design thinking, he said,

Because design touches on so many subject areas (psychology, ergonomics, economics, engineering, architecture, art, etc.), designers should bring to the table a broad, multi-disciplinary spectrum of ideas from which to draw inspiration and solutions.

While this appreciation for the value that ‘multi-disciplinary people’ bring to design points to the complexity of design, it also sets the stage for assembling ever more dynamic design teams. That’s exciting if you work in the design world.

I’m educated as an ecologist and landscape architect and I design computer software at Brainpark. I work at the white board with entrepreneurs, computer engineers, rock climbers, parents, an ex-US Navy Seal, and a CEO who was a pastor. The solutions we arrive at are surprising, always innovative and often more unique than anything a table of design school graduates could come up with. So, if you’re assembling a design team, follow Bruce Mau’s and Brainpark’s lead and look beyond the designer into other disciplines. It’s the multi-disciplinarian you should be seeking.

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