Science and design merge to drive innovation. It helps to understand our colleagues.
Design has never been more obviously interdisciplinary and collaborative than ever before.
And there’s a lot in common.
Observe, experiment, analyze, iterate
A scientist observes, identifies a question or problem, formulates a hypothesis, and tests for an answer. Much of the time, something unexpected occurs, and the experiment is repeated — or it runs without glitches and is repeated to check for reliability.
This workflow is not unlike that of a UX designer who views design not as decoration, but as visual problem-solving.
However, in science the evaluation is usually more statistically rigorous; there are standards for what may be reported as “significant.” This rigor helps to ensure that recommended actions have a basis on repeated results—not random opinions.
The soft skills of hard science
The soft skills that drive the sciences forward are the same as those of design.
Maintaining an open mind. Developing an eye for detail, a keen perception for patterns, and a knack for detecting subtle interactions. Curiosity for testing and analyzing one’s own work. Harboring vast amounts of patience and dedication. Communicating and collaborating effectively with others from diverse backgrounds. Staying humble enough to start with a blank slate over and over again. Staying up-to-date with the latest tech innovations.
And grit, grit, grit. The hardest of the soft skills. More on this in a moment.
Pressure and rejection
Output (quality and frequency) and money are also two of the most glaring pressures that scientists and designers today both face
While countless designers design “to order,” inwardly disagreeing with the product but performing for the carrot of a paycheck, some scientists also feel compelled to run experiments based on the funding opportunities available.
Sometimes this can cause moral dilemmas.
And for both scientists and designers trying to publish, to ship, rejection comes. Despite the unrelenting social pressure putting your job and your reputation on the line.
The difficulty of communicating
Just as designers can struggle to talk about design, scientists also can struggle to talk about science.
Expressing new ideas is hard. Describing invisible things is hard, whether that’s an electron orbital or how a company might apply a logo to a product that hasn’t been invented yet.
It takes grit of all types — physical, mental, and emotional — to do work that hasn’t been done before, whether that’s running an experiment or launching a brand. Success is never guaranteed.
The grit to get up and go on is really the same for scientists and designers, and it takes time to develop this skill. And grit is a skill. In her bestselling book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Dr. Angela Duckworth outlines several ways to cultivate grit. She suggests practice, along with fostering interest, purpose, and a growth mindset.
When science and design merge
In our globalized design community, designers are now colleagues with nearly everyone; the sciences and the arts have never been so close and so mutually influential.
New fields of study, such as the area of Transition Design conceived in 2012 at Carnegie Mellon University, recognize the importance of integrating the perspectives offered by the sciences with design in solving societal issues.
So, while the work scientists and designers do may require different tools, the critical skillset is similar: open-mindedness, humility, and grit. The obstacles and challenges are often parallel: rejection, pressure to ship, funding complications. And the vision is the same: Create things that shift our culture.
Scientists and designers? We are colleagues in the same field — that of innovation.
It’s time for us to look past the technical differences. To innovate at our best, we’ll need to collaborate at our best. And that starts by greeting each other with an empathic posture. As colleagues.
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