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Interdisciplinary Insights

New Approaches and Creative Partnership

GDE 730 Week 6

Exciting Partnerships

  1. Research and analyse how interdisciplinary collaboration can form exciting partnerships in graphic design.

  2. Research and analyse new genres of design specialism.


I was curious to note how Louize Harries explains the transition of her working process and design thinking following her successful career as a Textile Designer.  She seemed to crave exploration beyond the aesthetic and functional products, towards a more scientific & phycological approach to design thinking.  She states her aim is to use design as a tool to answer the bigger questions about how we live our lives.

Harries tries to provide a visual mechanism to highlight a particular issue she deems to be worth addressing.  In doing so she first researches the intricacies of the problem.  This offers up specialists for consultation, whose work is written and highly regarded within their field, but who remain largely unnoticed by the public.  The melding of these minds shines a spotlight on the cause. Harries provides the skills to communicate on a level that appeals and is easily understood by more of the population than the technical terms used by highly educated experts in the field.  Her work captures the public imagination and raises the profile of the topic.  The collaborators appreciate just how powerful public backing can be in swaying government policy or catching potential investors' attention.  

As much as the joint venture provides a successful springboard for acknowledgment and recognition, Harries warns that claims must be validated. This is where the authority on the subject provides the much-needed proof of context.  Trials are undertaken under the advice and guidance of their broad understanding of the subject.  In the case of Harries 'Red Rain' project, the strength of the visual communication comes from the tests carried out by communicating with the synthetic biology department & PhD students at Imperial College London.

It was interesting to hear how the students became friends with Harries and her partner Katie Mae Boyd.  How they socialised together, sharing thoughts and experiences which then led to new collaborations and business proposals.  This made me realise that you can develop connections with people from different specialisms, and still find common ground or similar sensibilities, fostering exciting new partnerships.

When Andy Altmann spoke so engagingly at the 2012 Type Talk conference in Berlin, it made me consider how the vision of others can take you on an incredible journey.  The collaboration of artist Gordon Young and Andy Altmann of Why Not Associates, along with the many engineers, materials experts, contractors & surveyors resulted in an incredible visual feast of public art.  Altmann speaks of the vision of Young in giving birth to the concept, the ambition & determination to create the work despite financially crippling quotes from construction companies that left Blackpool council shaking their heads. The enlightening research of the iconic English seaside town,  the inception of the factory space & equipment that could manufacture the hundreds of thousands of individual letters, and the patience, skill, and pride of the workers to methodically and systematically organise those pieces to the exact specification of the design.  It is no wonder that he said, on more than one occasion, that the process was more impressive than the end result.  The photos he showed during the presentation clearly illustrating that fact. 

I  thought of the multitude of potential future projects that could evolve from the magnitude of the Comedy Carpet.  The photographs, the waste granite, the concrete pouring, the quirky shifts in letters that Altmann adored and described as "human" elements.  The undertaking of such a project and the excitement of bringing the design to realisation, clearly presents an array of new working opportunities for all collaborators.  Furthermore, the interaction and reaction of the public to the final installation generates yet more interesting research opportunities around its social & cultural impact.

Partnerships that provide emotional support are not to be underestimated.  They play a vital part in ensuring that people have the solid foundations to be able to collaborate in the first instance.  Eye on interviewed 2 designers, Adi Goodrich & Ngaio Parr, who live in different parts of the world but have found strength and solace in friendship.  The article, written by Perrin Drumm, asks the pair how they felt before and after finding each other, and why their friendship is vital to their work process.

Goodrich explained that she had not had such a strong connection to anyone before.  Both recognised in each other a similar way of thinking.  Parr described this as their mutual need to be constantly learning about other people and places.  Goodrich elaborates with her opinion that you do not need to 'talk' for long or that often to connect on a deep level.  She puts this down to an almost mystical bond that resonates between them built upon like minds.  Parr and Goodrich consider each other as sounding boards.  They do not expect the other to 'solve' their dilemma, but instead to be a listening ear that enables an outpouring of conscious thoughts.  As someone who likes to 'talk' out my ideas, I can relate to this ideal.  It is perhaps a similar approach that a counsellor would take with a patient.

Another method that phycologists advocate to help process thoughts is expressive writing.  Psychology professor James Pennebaker collaborated with designer Ollie Alpin to produce Mind Journals specifically aimed at supporting men with their mental wellbeing.  Alpin used his own personal experiences of suffering from mental ill-health, backed up by the research and knowledge of Pennebaker, to highlight this important issue.  A very good example of a worthwhile & significant collaboration.


As we see more and more designers using their expertise in support of social, political, economical and environmental change, more design will be seen as a vital tool to creatively highlight, illustrate & communicate these principles.  Designers working processes and pedagogy are increasingly being amalgamated into corporate business management strategies in order to facilitate a more creative approach to problem-solving.  These shifting perspectives are paving the way for designers to become consultants, partners, and educators, opening up new roles.  Moreover, designers as master communicators, are beginning to be seen as more valuable and impactful.  

Through the shoots of design advocation, new genres are emerging in a huge variety of sectors, where design is not at the forefront of selling a product or service, but instead is helping to solve the climate crisis, world poverty & scientific discoveries.  Take for example creative events organisation Glug.  They aim to deliver talks and informal networking events for design creatives and in 2019 they called for creatives to help them "create the largest ever database of climate protest posters!"

The database is now available to access for free.

What are the advantages of interdisciplinary provocation and how could you utilise this approach in your practice?

Put theory into practice and spend an hour brainstorming ideas based on the following challenge and who you would choose to work with.

  1. Identify a discipline and specialist who could help you to reflect from a dynamically opposing position on a specific problem.

  2. Pick one of the issues below and discuss with your chosen individual how you may solve the challenge. This should ideally be recorded as an audio podcast. Our interest in this also relates to the way in which different disciplines discuss an issue and their manner and approach in communicating differently, as well as how you would capture this.

  3. As a guide, please evolve your own strategy for bridging the questions. Equally, you may wish to also consider the core issues: how would your specialism solve this and how different is this to the expected design thinker?

  4. Do not forget to consider the communication style you would use to encourage interdisciplinary dialogue.

  5. Finally, how do you summarise these findings in a way that is acceptable to both collaborators?


I identified a specialist from a geographic background who is now a horticulturalist and an environmentalist. 


I chose to slightly adapt the topic of mental health in young people and looked at employers responsibilities for ensuring positive mental health in the workplace.  We discussed the issue from our personal perspective and observations in the workplaces we have been employed within.  The differences in communication related predominately to our different work life experiences.  I was keen to extract my collaborators experiences of good and bad approaches to mental wellbeing at work, particularly the differences between public, private & voluntary sectors.  I also was interested in her point of view about managing wellbeing as a self employed person versus an employee. 

3.  My strategy was to research key facts around mental ill health in the workplace and share those with my collaborator.  I wanted to understand what strategies she felt would support the employer and the employee in mental wellbeing.  I wanted our conversation to illuminate the key issues that require attention in workplaces, what ideas have already been tried (successfully or not) and summarise specific problems we could solve with further collaboration.

4.  I wrote a list of key questions (see PDF below) for us both to think about and gave these to my collaborator in advance of the discussion.  I tailored the questions to points that would elicit discussion around solving some of those problems.  

5.  I summarised our findings by editing down the discussion, whilst highlighting the key points made during our discussion and wrote a summary of tools that would benefit the employer & the employee in supporting mental health at work. (Please view the video below)

Ideas Wall Contributions

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Answering the warm up question:

What are the advantages of interdisciplinary provocation?

Sharing my focus for this weeks brainstorm with a specialist from an alternative sector.

Giving feedback to my peers regarding the points I found interesting in their podcasts.

Workshop Challenge

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