There are some words which I don’t like at all but which stand for something I like very much. One of those words is interdisciplinarity. Most definitions of interdisciplinarity focus on what it is rather than how it’s performed.
Klein and Newell refer to interdisciplinarity as a process, but in a more general way:
A process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or profession… [It] draws on disciplinary perspectives and integrates their insights through construction of a more comprehensive perspective.
Last weekend, we co-organized a hackathon in Munich, the WEARABLE DATA HACK 2015, as the first hack day on wearable tech applications, data and design. In this claim alone, lies some interdisciplinarity: one of our goals was to bring data and design experts together, in order to create something new, something neither data nerds nor design wizzes would be able to come up with if working in their respective domains, alone.
And how that idea worked out!
Everybody participating in this weekend was thrilled at the end: data scientists and hackers added their binary wisdom to the artistic and intuitive perspectives the designers came up with. Most hacker teams consisted of both, nerds and designers. And with just a general guidance „coöperate, please“, the teams formed themselves, worked closely together for 48 hours and respected each team member’s individual value added. That’s my definition of interdisciplinarity.
I’m quite sure: nobody said the “i‑word” word during the weekend. And probably nobody has every visited a workshop to learn to work in an interdisciplinary way — as it is offered in many corporate environments. The participants of the WEARABLE DATA HACK 2015 just did it: they cooperated and each of them added her best individual value to create new ideas and projects together.
A good summary of the team’s projects is provided by Anika Kehrer in her article for Make magazine (German only).
A very interesting and unique experience for me was the “Design Thinking“ session by Oliver Szasz who teaches design at Macromedia University, Munich. He asked us to analyze the process of gifting people and come up with new ways for gifting. That was an intensive experience with some quite innovative solutions to optimize gifting in different living situations. The greatest aspect here, again: the session was mostly visited by hackers and nerds who, typically, don’t focus on the aspects of gifting. But in that interdisciplinary environment it worked pretty well — and brought some great results.
My conclusion: just bring together some cool, curious people from different fields of expertise, provide them with a common goal, a general guidance, and let them work. That’s true interdisciplinarity. And it’s so much fun, even if the word sucks.