Frustrations: Transdisciplinary Literacy

As I skim the more than 250 student feedback submissions about a mini-design-assignment they did, I find many, many answers along the lines of “I’m not good at drawing” “I’m not very creative” “I was so happy we were allowed to do something free and imaginary, even though it was scary” – alongside answers like “I had no idea of how design actually works” and “this has really opened my eyes”.

While I neither expect first-year informatics students (except for those with prior experience or interest) to know anything about …. design in the broader sense (and here I am again wishing there were BETTER WORDS FOR THINGS), I have already given (and heard) many a rant on the for some reason established standard of parents, teachers and peers shaming the bulk of children into insecurity about creative output like drawing or singing. Even while I knew this, and therefore explicitly remarked in the assignment prompts that skill was not of import, I must have still assumed there also just wasn’t that much interest, so I was genuinely surprised at the high interest most students seemed to show in speculative design and critical and visual creative work.

But there might be another reason for that – anecdotally, people in the different areas of design tend to develop a sort of arrogance about the own field, and disdain towards other perspectives and non-experts, when really every single engineer who dabbles in graphic design and every artist who starts coding should be commended for the enthusiasm, even if it’s misplaced, misinformed or poorly executed. It shouldn’t be ridiculed or stopped. Obviously, we shouldn’t pretend to do what we’re not qualified to, but insights into other fields are essential for cooperation and better understanding of context of the own field. Sounds like a given, but in (educational) practice, it’s often not.

Reading the feedback, I thought back on my time at the University of Applied arts, and how trapped I felt in the art bubble, unable to cooperate with students from say, the university of natural resources and life sciences, or, well, the TU department of informatics. Yes, it was necessary to learn how to reach out to experts and so on, but that’s something else. There was no time or way to, in a full schedule with assignments and deadlines suffocating us, cooperate with other students. There should be so much more institutional facilitation of transdisciplinary courses and exchanges. Why isn’t there? P—- tells me over lunch, “we tried, but the one time it actually took place, TU students realized mid-semester that for [a ridiculous reason], they wouldn’t be able to get credits for it. you can imagine the rest”.