Transdisciplinary Design

Where to Do

Posted on October 26, 2018 | posted by: mcclg933

Last week a group of archaeologists, huddling around a small screen, watched closely as their ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) approached 2,500 meters below the surface of The Black Sea. Continuing an ongoing three-year expedition The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP) is in search of buried ancient civilizations to study the effects melting glaciers have had on the rising sea level throughout history. Using deep sea robotics and radar technology they are creating a three-dimensional geophysical map of the 770 square mile sea floor. As their ROV descended to investigate the mysterious form signaled to them by their ships radar, a rather regular occurrence, they set eyes on something only known in thought and speculation.  Over a mile and a half beneath its industrial descendent sat a fully intact Greek merchant ship, undisturbed and perfectly preserved nestled in the sea bed where it had landed some 2,400 years prior. An unparalleled look at something only previously seen on the side of an ancient Greek wine vase depicting Homers’ Odysseus, restrained to the mast, violent in his torment by the Sirens call. Though this gave them the spotlight they long deserved this crowning achievement only speaks to a small moment in three years of exploration, a moment that has passed on from many of the minds who may have marveled at it in the time it took them to read the article title. It’s an apex of ancient discoveries but one that has continued an unforeseen standard for the team. In fact this discovery is joined by 67 others in the past three years, each an ancient shipwreck resting on the sea bed, all nearly perfectly preserved due to the anoxic (without oxygen) bottom layer of The Black Sea. However extraordinary these accomplishments may sound it’s not really at all what they were looking for, yet it seems clear in the light of all they found they didn’t need to know what they were looking for, they only needed to know where to look. And in knowing where to look they simply showed up and got to work.


During my time Parsons I have read dozens of different theories and asked dozens more questions. I’ve had to recognize my shortcomings while also celebrating the possibilities that come from seeing what I haven’t always seen. This gives me hope but challenges my trust, both of which are necessary to the expanding notions of design as both a theory, and a practice; something often assumed but not always understood.  It’s become standard to look at the traditional disciplines of design and see the artifacts as the icons of innovation they have historically been. To look back and think if only we could see what they saw we could truly push forward in our practice of design. I’ve soon recognized; however, the innovators in Design who have come before me, known or unknown, never knew what they were looking for rather they knew where to look, they showed up, and they got to work.

As we progress as designers we cannot escape the increasing demand placed on that title and what it has the potential to represent. If we recognize design as the innovative problem solving method it known to be we have to innovate once more and look beyond the artifacts that were deemed solutions and re-examine the cause or the problem those artifacts appear to have solved.  Continuing, we look to the cause of the artifact and not only the effect that is the artifact, and furthermore seeing the artifact as not only an effect of a cause, but also a cause of effects in itself. In doing so you begin to at once hold in view the object and the system it represents, you begin to recognize what you weren’t looking for. Upon looking closer we may find many problems still persist, or new ones have been created and thus we begin the process of looking again at the systems in which these cause and effects live.We do this not because Design has been wrong, Design is not a matter of right and wrong it’s a matter of doing, a matter of doing it better than it’s prior doing. We do this because that’s what innovation through the disciplines of  Design are at minimum expected to do. It’s what cemented Design in history as a worthy practice. Design is a weak term when defined as a value system of right and wrong, it simply does not care what’s right and wrong it is concerned with how we can do better. How we are to know if we’ve achieved such a thing is not up to us to decide, for only upon reflection of what we’ve done will we know if we were looking in the right place, if we are to be part of or discarded by history. Design’s purpose is not to know what to look for, it’s to know where to look and get to work in hopes of being better. Designers embrace issues without deciding who or what’s to blame because we look not towards solutions but towards sustainable innovation. We hold the system lens in tandem with our design processes, we see who or what has been neglected before, during, and after. We uncover things we never set out to look for not because we know what’s right and wrong, not because we knew who should be held responsible for orphaned problems, not because we knew what we were looking for, but because knew where to look, we showed up and we got to work. All while knowing that a singular crowning achievement after three years of 67 monumental discoveries could maybe only offer us a passing moment in present recognition, but a lifetime of purpose and a legacy of sustainable innovation.


“Black Sea M.A.P – Maritime Archaeology Project.” Black Sea M.A.P – Maritime Archaeology Project,
Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: a Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015.
Noack, Rick. “World’s ‘Oldest Intact Shipwreck,’ Dating to More than 2,400 Years Ago, Found at Bottom of Black Sea.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 Oct. 2018,
Rawlinson, Kevin. “World’s Oldest Intact Shipwreck Discovered in Black Sea.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Oct. 2018,
“Shipwreck Found in Black Sea Is ‘World’s Oldest Intact’.” BBC News, BBC, 23 Oct. 2018,