Discipline-Crossing Architecture

by Luke Wroblewski July 3, 2004

Interface design is innately a cross-disciplinary endeavor. Not only does this keep work very interesting for a practitioner, but it also creates a unique career advancement opportunity. Effective interface designs require an understanding of your medium (technology), your content, your audience, communication (presentation), and more.

This means being verbose in the fields of engineering, marketing, business, and user experience. In Career Warfare, David D’Alessandro highlights the “ability to move within the larger world of the corporation” as important criteria for career advancement. Cross-disciplinary expertise provides a means for understanding and meeting the objectives of multiple corporate organizations that can ultimately support and enhance your personal brand. Building bridges between disciplines is rewarding work for the individual and the organization.

An interesting dilemma is that few schools prepare students for this type of work. In many schools interface design (more frequently known as Human Computer Interaction) lives as an isolated field in the Computer Science or Cognitive Psychology department. There is little to no overlap with Library and Information Sciences, Marketing Communication, or Graphic Design. But some schools are moving toward integrated spaces and programs. An interesting example is MIT’s Stata Center: a $280 million ante in support of the idea that the best science is interdisciplinary and serendipitous.

“The solution is to surround the creative types with other, equally creative people who will challenge their assumptions. What we're seeing is a reconfiguration of the ways we think about knowledge, the labs we're building today are for people who say things like, 'I don't know whether I'm mathematician or an engineer or a physicist.'" – Spencer Reiss, Wired

Here’s hoping the outcome of integration in the future will be as fruitful as it was in the past. “The birth of Big Science began at places like Los Alamos and Oak Ridge and MIT's RadLab, you had mathematicians and theorists literally sitting on the other side of the desk from engineers. It was transformative."