Design for multidisciplinary collaboration: Science + Design

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Design Engineering


To address ill-defined and complex societal problems, innovators increasingly collaborate across disciplines, combining design approaches and scientific knowledge (Gero, 2000; Sawa, 2016; Schindler, 2015; Simons et al., 2011; Tsekleves et al., 2019) and try to entangle two or more disciplines among art, design, engineering and science (Oxman, 2016; Stark, 2009). However, cross-disciplinary collaborations can lead to a lack of mutual understanding between collaborators due to "object worlds" and "thought worlds" presented by boundaries between practices (Bucciarelli, 2003). The context of science and design collaboration can be a rich ground for the generation of creative innovations, but the interactions, methods, processes for these collaboration are yet to be developed (Dunne and Raby, 2013). In this context, this research aims at improving collaborations in multidisciplinary innovation teams and at understanding how to cross boundaries between disciplines such as design and science. The expected outcome is a new model of collaborative innovation, supported by a tool(kit), that will support creative conversations between multidisciplinary agents, with particular focus on designers and scientist. The outcome is aimed to be useful in practice as well as academia.

As multicultural and multidisciplinary teams have become the norm in innovation management and R&D domains, research is increasingly directed towards understanding challenges and opportunities they pose. This creates new areas of
interest for creativity management, particularly when considering design as a social activity, rather than single-practitioner based reflective practice described by Schön (Paletz et al., 2017; Sosa and Gero, 2015). The ambition of the research is stimulating innovation within a given context of a project team, and maximising the existing human resources, therefore the review also investigates cognitive processes regarding creativity in teams.
1. why should design and science collaborate?
2. what are science and design collaborations like? what are the characteristics of successful collaborations?
3. what are sources of creativity for innovation?
4. how is new knowledge created and shared?
5. how might we approach creativity stimulation in collaborations?
A proposal to explore the nature of learning in multidisciplinary context can be formed, by asking: How does incidental situated learning occur in innovation aimed open-ended collaborations? This study contributes to understanding about designing for creativity (and innovation) by providing a framework that explores the link between learning through boundary objects and creativity in multidisciplinary teams.

Experimental study
To understand the effect of boundary objects in collaborations between designers and scientists, 4 ideation sessions were organised. Participants were asked to come up with an innovative (novel and useful) project proposal and illustrate potential outcomes of their proposal. The study entails a qualitative analysis of the use of boundary objects. Physical as well as verbal boundary objects to understand how mutual learning occurs are to be analysed. This is done with the aim to explore what attempts can be made to enhance these processes by introduction of strategic design interventions that embody a boundary object, or invite practitioners to create one, as part of the collaboration.
In order to leverage the creation of such innovations, the following questions are proposed.
- How does learning occur in multidisciplinary ideation sessions between designers and scientists?
- What is the significance of boundary objects in 'creative conversations' aiming at innovative ideas?
- What is the effect of boundary objects in multidisciplinary ideation sessions?
The analysis is contributing to the developing knowledge about understanding the reflective practitioner and co-evolution of ideas in a collaborative multi-agent context.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513052/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2023
2162556 Studentship EP/R513052/1 27/09/2018 26/09/2021 Sander Valk