Transdisciplinary Design

It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Design + Social Science.

Posted on April 25, 2011 | posted by:

Francis Carter, Angeles Cortesi, Elie Kahwaji, Kiersten Nash + Kelly Tierney

Social science and design are inextricably linked in the journey towards a more sustainable future that will undoubtedly require the restructuring of society and consequently disciplines.

According to Clement Mok, “it’s not rocket science. It’s social science – the science of understanding people’s needs and their unique relationship with art, literature, history, music, work, philosophy, community, technology and psychology. The act of design is structuring and creating that balance.”

Design has always defined itself as the interface between technology and society, focusing on the human use of invention and artifact. It has a long history of adapting anthropological and sociological practices to analyze, theorize and advance possibilities. However the adaptation is often shallow, inconsistent and inadequate to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Where is the intersection of social science and design? What commonalities do the disciplines share? When we say observation is the cornerstone of field work, which field are we talking about? What do designers have to learn from the insight that social scientists are able to illicit through their outside observational tactics? Can design-led research contribute to the conversation? What can design with, rather than for, do for society?

It’s assumed that design acts without a comprehensive understanding, and that social science understands without action. However both design and social sciences act within siloed cultures – where is the overlap between these fields? Where can they inform each other? What would a mash up of design and social science look like?

What kind of offspring would be engendered?