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The Black Hole

Thoughts on including design as a discipline within interdisciplinarity

BY BETH | SEP 13 2010

I had two experiences this week that got me thinking about the potential benefits of scientists working with designers. First was when I received the proofs of an evaluation report that I’d written – since the report was to be given out to the community partners with whom the program works, it was sent to a designer to take my lowly MSWord document to spruce it up a bit. What I thought would just be an “OK, that looks nice” kind of decision, actually resulted in a fairly long conversation about how presenting the information in different ways might be, or not be, appropriate to the actual findings of the report. It got me thinking about how through all of our talk about the communication of science to broad audiences, one thing I hadn’t thought about before was the importance of design in communication.  My sister is a graphic designer, so I’ve learned that design is about a lot more than making things look pretty – it is, in part, about communicating ideas in a way that makes sense to your audience.

Shortly after that, I was working on a logic model and was struggling with finding a way to convey a key piece of information in the model. I’d drawn up something that made sense to me, but when I’d shown it to others, it was clear that the concept I was trying to convey was not getting across. So I called up my sister for help. Using her knowledge and skills at communicating ideas visually, she was able to help me design something that worked.  And it again got me to thinking: we’ve talked here before about the importance of being able to communicate scientific ideas clearly, but I’d never really thought about designers as part of that equation. I’ve done a fair bit of work around the idea of multi-/inter-/transdisciplinarity, looking at how to get, for example, neuroscientists, epidemiologists, sociologists, health care providers and policymakers to work together, but I’ve never thought of including designers in that list of disciplines.

These thoughts are pretty embryonic at this stage, but I’m curious to see if any scientists have done work with designers to convey their scientific ideas? Or if you have any other thoughts on the topic?

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  1. Judy Wearing / September 13, 2010 at 12:13

    Oh Beth, this is so very very true!
    While editing/developing hundreds of educational workbooks for K-8 in science and other subjects, it became exceedingly apparent that design is integral to excellent communication, AND that the process between author and designer needs to be two-way.
    In my experience the benefits of incorporating design in communicating science go beyond the importance of conveying concepts. Design is imperative for motivation to stop and take in the info (no matter who well read or clearly presented visually, if a piece is not read there is no communication), and motivation is imperative for learning (assessing and retaining the new information being communicated, and hopefully applying it in future).
    I think the younger and/or more media saturated the audience, the more important visual “pop” becomes.