Interdisciplinary Collaboration: A Case for Good Project Management
Michelle S. Berryman, Principal, Echo Visualization
The precise nature of this process of design is infinitely varied and therefore difficult to summarize in a simple formula or definition. It can be the work of one person, or of a team working co-operatively; it may stem from a burst of creative intuition, or from a calculated judgment based on technical data or market-research investigations, or even, as some designers maintain, be determined by the taste of a managing director’s wife. John Heskett, 1980 Industrial Design
Some twenty-two years after John Heskett penned his axiom about the process of industrial design, it remains relevant, and even poignant. The role of industrial design has changed over the years, however, and this trend is likely to continue in the new millennium. The ever-expanding role of technology in industry and manufacturing demands an increasing collaborative effort in the business arena. Fewer and fewer designers work alone, depending on the proverbial “burst of creative intuition” to fuel their livelihoods. It is now commonplace to work collaboratively on projects from the initial brainstorming of the ideas all the way through the manufacturing process. As a profession, industrial designers have developed solid relationships and business practices for co-operative work with mechanical engineers, product and brand managers, marketing personnel and manufacturing groups. Designers have acquired a competency in specifying materials and processes and they have learned to compromise with engineering to meet price points and manufacturing limitations while still maintaining the integrity of their design. The collaborative relationships aren’t without difficulties at times, but industrial designers, engineers and marketing have become comfortable and fluent with the collaborative process over the years.
As technology continues to advance at an accelerating pace, business seeks ways to capitalize on these advances. Industrial designers and engineers are forced to shoulder new burdens. They are continually pressed to embrace new technology; to make their products faster, cheaper, and smaller. The race to be first to market is the bottom line for business. In this emerging business landscape, industrial designers are finding themselves working in nontraditional interdisciplinary teams with physicists, psychologists, computer programmers, anthropologists, multimedia designers and other specialized professionals. This collaboration affords exciting new opportunities for the profession but it also offers an equal number of challenges as design teams search for that familiar fluency of collaboration that hasn’t yet evolved. Design education and professional practice are struggling to develop coping strategies for effective and productive collaboration within these varied interdisciplinary teams. The struggle can be minimized however, with a solid strategy involving basic tenets of good project management.