Transdisciplinary Design

The Complex World Needs New Professionals

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on October 31, 2014

Sungmy K


Businessman with card


Several years ago when I was in South Korea, I had a conversation of professionalism with my designer friends. We met by similar interests during social lives, and we all had work experiences for some years. Our common concern was that there are so many interesting disciplines and issues in the world to learn and engage, but if we keep following our interests, how can we say about our specialties? What kinds of professional titles do we have? These questions confused me to build my career. So did they.


What is professionalism? And who are professionals? What can define a professional? The first thing came to my mind is a work period. We often identify people by the period of their experiences. The people who have long period of experiences and great skills in one specific field are often called as masters. Some restaurants use their long histories as a promotion.


Then how long is enough to become a professional? 15 years? Or 30 years? Although the period can’t be the only criterion to determine it, many believe the period of experience on resume tells one’s potential ability, as common job description focuses on the required work period in a relevant position.


What about those who are in career transition? Do they lose their specialties? Absolutely not. Here is a fortunate news for them, the world becomes too complex to be solved by one expert. In other words, traditional professionals’ performances are not enough for the world these days. According to Rittel and Webber, “In the courts, the streets, and the political campaigns, we’ve been hearing ever-louder public protests against the professions’ diagnoses of the clients’ problems, against professionally designed governmental programs, against professionally certified standards for the public services.”¹


The astonishing fact is that this article was written in 1973. The reason that the concept of professionalism has not changed enough for almost 40 years is not only because we have not been able to see how complicated the world is, but also because we have denied wicked problems. We tend to avoid complex issues that are already too heavy to lighten. It seems obvious that this world requires a new type of professionals. It does not necessarily mean that the significance of the role for traditional experts has to be decreased, but it is essential to have new professionals who are capable of connecting the dots among different disciplines. This allows individual expert to understand how different fields should be inter-connected in an appropriately harmonious fashion. In addition, it also helps to avoid conflict of interests by viewing a bigger forest. For instance, when I was working for a project with engineers, marketers, and planners as a designer, the lack of understanding among different fields had a tendency to block smooth progress on the common goal, because they adhered to their opinions on their own shoes. Marketers tried to hold the price only, engineers kept discussing the feasibility of implementation, and designers wanted to make distinctive products. These should be taken account to some degree eventually toward an ideal objective.


Then, which one would be better, an individual who has diverse experiences or an expert in a single area? How should collaboration work among different disciplines? Well, I think there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Back to the beginning, I have doubted my identity of specialty because I felt trans-disciplinary design may intervene my career and thus end up with losing my professional field. However, I figured out that it was a narrow perspective. I believe I can throw myself in a variety of fields as well as building my career, leading new value of professional type to deal with forest rather than a tree itself. My passion will enhance my value no matter what discipline I’ll do. Yes, I just solved one problem.



  1. Horst W. J. Rittel, Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155
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