Interdisciplinary Design Workshop by NSF “Driving Innovation through Design” @ Northwestern University

As design has attracted increasing attention across multiple academic disciplines, interdisciplinary design workshops have been hosted by the universities that have established their interdisciplinary design programs, including Stanford University and University of Michigan. In April 2010, the Segal Design Institute at Northewestern University hosted a workshop under the title of “Driving Innovation through Design — Engineering in the 21st century.”

Sustainable growth in the 21st Century requires technological and social innovations that effectively address the complex, interdependent problems that we face as a nation and throughout the world. Design research and education provides the intellectual underpinning and offers knowledge and experience to serve as a foundation for this endeavor. However, establishing interdisciplinary design research and education programs requires institutional transformation to overcome the current system that is structured around traditional disciplines with little cross-connection. This two-day workshop, supported by National Science Foundation (NSF), brought together a group of university administrators, faculty and researchers, and industry practitioners, to discuss the role that Design may play in helping universities transform their educational mission and practices to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

– excerpted from the executive summary, NSF workshop report

I was invited to attend this workshop as the only business student. I have discussed a wide variety of issues with researchers, teachers, and practitioners. We worked in groups discussing interdisciplinary design research and nurturing design faculty, and presented the summaries (click here for the team presentations).

In particular, recommendations on design research are worth sharing (click here for the final report).

A large-scale, sustained education agenda must be supported and complemented by a research agenda that studies the pertinent questions and develops the knowledge and methods to address them. While interdisciplinary education is readily understood, interdisciplinary research is much less so. Rather than perceiving design research as an interdisciplinary area, it is more advantageous to view Design as a discipline in itself that can combine knowledge from other disciplines, akin to our concept of medicine as a discipline. Examples of design research topics include:

  1. Exploration of the intersection and interaction of people, products, and systems;
  2. Reconciliation of the creative, holistic thinking of the arts with the analytical, decomposed thinking of the sciences;
  3. Methods to enhance interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, knowledge capture, and reuse across disciplines;
  4. Design innovation of complex engineered systems;
  5. Identification of the characteristics of innovative teams;
  6. Exploration of the intersection of computing and human systems and how this supports the design process;
  7. Methodologies for the design of emerging systems, such as medical and health care systems, energy related products and services, and multi-scale devices and systems;
  8. Design of completely new products, services, and systems yet to be conceived; and
  9. Interdisciplinary design education including innovation, creativity, teamwork, leadership, entrepreneurship through curricular and extracurricular learning.

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