Activity: Organising a conference or workshopResearch


    Multidisciplinary Design: Distinctions and Blurred Boundaries.
    Symposium for Creative Designers

    I have initiated and organised the symposium which took place on 27th April 2018 at Avenue Campus, University of Northampton. For the event I designed a website, which was hosted for a year on the internet between Oct 2017 and Oct 2018.

    Context: After nearly forty years of introducing multidisciplinary design practice to education and creative industry and embracing its role in education and economy growth in the UK, there is still a lack of agreement about what the term ‘multidisciplinary’ actually means. One definition proposes that ‘it describes situations in which several disciplines cooperate but remain unchanged'1.
    The definition fails to expand to the challenges facing the practitioner nor to the potential of benefits acquired. As academics, designers and researchers we all have experienced both benefits and deficiencies of multidisciplinary approaches to material and conceptual thinking.

    The aim of the symposium was to open up discussions, to raise questions, and to suggest some healing solutions to the surgical cuts applied to creative fields we teach and work in today. Those we call now distinguished creative fields, they were once a solid unity here in the UK and are still a unity in many other places like The American University in Beruit or Dubia, Bauhaus in Germany, and The school of Art and Design in Prague.

    Education in the UK have taken the clinical approach to separating creative fields that they almost became alien to each other. For instance, we have Graphic Communication course, Illustration course, and multimedia course here at our UoN, each has it own personality, aims, and purpose. And despite my colleagues’ previous attempt to introduce shared modules, it is still difficult to introduce integration. These courses, In other institutions in Europe and Asia and East Asia they are most likely merged under what we call Visual Communication course.

    However, this alienation most likely remains on paper and in theoretical and academic contexts. If we look at creative industry the story is different and the more multi-disciplinant the applicant is, the more desirable he or she is. The creative person in industry is expected not to only understand multimedia but also to deliver creative solutions using multi-medium.

    Which leads us to ask: are we actually trying hard enough to mirror that demand of today’s creative business in academia? What are the risks and benefits of multidisciplinary design in academic and in professional contexts? How about the distinctions and blurred boundaries between creative disciplines in both contexts?

    Besides the questionable implication to the immutability of disciplines while practicing multidisciplinary, the definition fails to expand to the challenges facing the practitioner nor to the potential of benefits acquired. As academics, designers and researchers we all have experienced both benefits and impairments of multidisciplinary approaches to material and conceptual thinking and application.
    The symposium explored the meaning, risks and benefits of multidisciplinary design in academic and professional contexts and discussed the significance of distinctions between creative disciplines in both contexts as well as the blurred boundaries in between.

    Focus of paper presentations were encouraged to be about your personal experience and/or view on one of the following*:

    The connotations, risks and benefits of multidisciplinary design in academic contexts; research or teaching and learning multidisciplinary design.
    The connotations, risks and benefits of multidisciplinary design in professional context; working with others towards corporate aims using multidisciplinary design.
    The distinctions between creative disciplines in industry and/or academia.
    The blurred boundaries between creative disciplines in industry and/or academia.

    The papers presented covered the points above and each had a different point of view to look through at the subject.

    Overview of papers presented:
    1. Bursting the silos by A. T. focused on the challenges to interdisciplinary working within undergraduate design education. Topics covered barriers to interdisciplinary working pre and post-graduation, siloes within the disjointed National Curriculum, the reduction in creative subjects taught at GCSE leading to a student’s ill equipped to recognise opportunities for interdisciplinary working, combatting interdisciplinary awkwardness, the potential impact of the EBacc, disinclination to work outside of perceived discipline, and finally the changing nature of graphic designer ’s role.

    2. Seeing the Whole Design Picture by V. T. The paper discussed the distinctions and blurred boundaries between creative disciplines in educational context.

    3. Imagining Research by W. H. investigated approaches to teaching research methodologies to level 5 Graphic Communications and Illustration students. The paper presented a case study of a student-led group project that was designed to embed approaches to research through investigation and making. Here the emphasis was on students visualizing their responses to the work and ideas of a cultural icon, in this case Jean Baudrillard, and communicating those responses through the production of a short film. The intriguing aspect of this project is that when freed from the requirement produce an essay, students allow their imaginations to roam around the subject area and they engage in new and innovative ways. Further, as the production outcome drew on their studio skills and practice interests there was a level of confidence to the outcomes that is often missing from more formal written outcomes. Having established this project as a skills-learning seminar exercise the plan was to enshrine this as an assessed work that brings multi-disciplinary approaches to the delivery of theoretical studies for graphics and illustration students at the University of Northampton.

    4. Designing​ ​Empathic​ ​User​ ​Experiences​ ​for​ ​Mixed​ ​Reality and​ ​Augmented​ ​Environments by L. ​C. S. mixed​ ​reality​ ​environments​ ​and​ ​spaces​ ​where​ ​interaction​ ​takes​ ​place​ ​from​ ​a​ ​mixed​ ​number of​ ​sources​ ​both​ ​real,​ ​augmented​ ​and​ ​virtual.​ ​These​ ​virtual​ ​or​ ​augmented​ ​spaces​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can inhabit​ ​are​ ​interactive​ ​in​ ​their​ ​very​ ​nature.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​interacting​ ​with​ ​mute​ ​objects but,​ ​like​ ​the​ ​spaces​ ​themselves,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​potentially​ ​responsive,​ ​dynamic,​ ​and​ ​alterable. Within​ ​these​ ​environments​ ​the​ ​participant​ ​or​ ​user​ ​has​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​to​ ​experience​ ​a​ ​broader sense​ ​of​ ​understanding,​ ​collaboration​ ​and​ ​even​ ​learning​ ​with​ ​others​ ​and​ ​themselves. These​ ​digitally​ ​enabled​ ​spaces,​ ​through​ ​the​ ​evolution​ ​of​ ​mobile​ ​computing​ ​have unprecedented​ ​levels​ ​of​ ​connectivity.​ ​As​ ​designers​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​only​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​make technology​ ​better​ ​to​ ​use​ ​but​ ​must​ ​also​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​deeply​ ​the​ ​impact​ ​these technologies​ ​have​ ​on​ ​our​ ​​senses​.​ ​The​ ​design​ ​and​ ​aesthetics​ ​of​ ​these​ ​interactions​ ​on​ ​our senses​ ​have​ ​formed​ ​an​ ​area​ ​of​ ​inquiry​ ​broadly​ ​described​ ​as​ ​‘humanist​ ​technologies’;​ ​a​ ​field​ ​of​ ​research​ ​that​ ​fundamentally​ ​affects​ ​our​ ​identities;​ ​public,​ ​private and​ ​corporate.​ ​This​ ​builds​ ​on​ ​nearly​ ​two​ ​decade's​ ​worth​ ​of​ ​prior​ ​interdisciplinary​ ​research. This​ ​paper​ ​focused​ ​on​ ​how​ ​the​ ​author's​ ​early​ ​sculptural​ ​installation​ ​work​ ​has​ ​evolved​ ​to​ ​her present​ ​doctoral​ ​research​ ​focussing​ ​on​ ​the​ ​empathic​ ​computational​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​augmented and​ ​mixed​ ​reality.

    5.The Hanging Gardens by A. A. and D. M.. discussed a multidisciplinary project that was designed to bring to life the findings of Dr Stephanie Dalley, of Oxford University’s Oriental Institute and author of “The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon” Book. Involving the students from Computing and Games Art with FAST, the proposed idea was to create a 3D virtual environment of the landscape. This was done using the Oculus Rift and the software Unity3D.  The aim was to enhance the student experience by creating an environment with wider uses within academic circles, with the investigation of the proposed new theories of the siting/design of “The Hanging Gardens”. The initial idea for the proposed look of the environment has been supplied by Dr Stephanie Dalley. Utilising latest games technology, along with modern VR equipment the idea will be to construct a digital package that will allow individual to gain a virtual experience of the ancient world. The project utilised the current learning experience, which happened on the two courses, and to stimulate this further through the aspect of exploration of new technology with new theories on ancient history. This project also allowed those interested in the proposed siting of the Hanging Gardens to visualise the structure and gain new understanding of the way this colossus build could have taken place. A greater understanding of architecture, engineering, and social interaction, could be simulated and observed. This in turn would make a major impact on how academic view the ancient world. Link to project:

    1. Design Council (2010) The Multidisciplinary Design Network Report on Multidisciplinary Design Education in UK. Retrieved from (Last accessed 3rd Oct.2017).

    Feedback of the event:
    After the event, I have received feedback from both presenters and many of the audience members. The common theme of the comments was positive noting that the symposium was much needed to initiate discussions and to think about future solutions, that is to bring creative fields together in academic contexts mirroring the industrial integrated setting.

    Future plans:
    Following up from this event, the Subject Leader at University of Northampton and the Research Leader have both advised for this event to become annual and to keep the momentum up in terms of research and debates around the subject of multidisciplinary design.
    Period27 Apr 2018
    Event typeConference
    LocationNorthampton, United KingdomShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionNational


    • multidisciplinary design
    • symposium
    • multimedia design
    • graphic design
    • design industry
    • design in academia