Interdisciplinarity: what is it?

First of all it is essential to define interdisciplinarity as the collaboration between disciplines (different areas of expertise) during the creation process in order to generate and develop new ideas and solutions.

The key word is collaboration, but its meaning (working jointly and cooperatively) is misunderstood sometimes. For instance, in a big project as a computer, different components have to be worked out (interfaces, the technology behind and the product itself). To develop the final product it will be necessary to have working “together” graphic and interface designers, engineers and product designers, computer scientists…  But actually, once the concept and its specifications have been defined, they do not work together but well coordinated.

But interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary thinking has to be bounded to team work and collaboration.

Our approach to knowledge and education has evolved a lot in time. During The Renaissance, known as an era of change and innovation, global and interdisciplinary knowledge was sought. The value was in gathering the basic knowledge to be critical in every field. They were not experts but had a great understanding of almost everything. Gathering knowledge of different disciplines was beneficial for the innovation process then and it is still now.

But now education and professionals have become much more specialized. We have reached a point where it is possible to become an expert of a specific field of a sub-discipline. Achieving that degree of detail we cannot expect to become experts of everything. Actually, becoming an expert of something is already an achievement.

But “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. When we achieve a very deep knowledge in one subject, we tend to lose perspective. We cannot see external factors anymore. That limits innovation and narrows down the possibilities of finding good solutions.

So it is here when interdisciplinary thinking as collaboration comes into scene. We actually do not need to be experts of everything but to be able to collaborate with other disciplines. Unfortunately in many cases we are not ready to share our knowledge and accept others’ input.

Lately high education is also taking this path, preparing professionals to have a more open approach to problem solving and believe in collaboration. Hopefully in a near future this will become a common approach.



Fung, A. Lo, A. Rao, M., Creative Tools. Hong Kong: School of design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 2006, pp. 6

Boelsifte, P. Jorgersen, U., Design & Innovation: Developing a curriculum for future design engineers at the technical university of Denmark [from the book] Rodgers, P. Brodhurst, L. Hepburn, D., Crossing Design Boundaries. London: Taylor and Francis Group plc, 2005, pp. 401


2 thoughts on “Interdisciplinarity: what is it?

  1. Great blog, and the sentiments expressed are definitely becoming more widespread. I was at a dinner last night where the Principal of Dundee University was saying the very same things. I do think that some of the most exciting work in many areas are a result of collaborations with multidisciplinary teams. Lets see more of them!

  2. Thanks for the comment Fiona.

    I also believe that it is becoming vital, especially when it comes to innovation.

    We are now putting together a research proposal to continue with my masters’ project. The idea is to create accessible tools to evaluate the effectiveness in multi-disciplinary teams and enable collaboration.

    If you know of any organization interested in the subject which can provide us with some funding, please let me know! :)


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