Text and images by Gill Brown, PhD student at London College of Communication
“Research is about asking interesting and important questions, and many of them are interdisciplinary … Interdisciplinary research should be the normal and right way to do research.” The words of Professor Sir Mark Walport, the government’s Chief Scientific Officer, during his opening address at the Interdisciplinary Research: Policy and Practice conference at the British Academy last week.
As a graphic design student, who previously worked as a geophysicist, I specifically chose to undertake interdisciplinary research and this is proving to be the most challenging aspect of my PhD. I was therefore interested in what the conference had to say on this subject, and particularly where art and design fit into what is generally regarded as the realm of science and the humanities. Encouragingly, Mark Walport went on to stress the importance of STEAM, not just STEM, and this view was echoed by other speakers. However, the emphasis was very much on the importance of design, with no mention of art. Somewhat surprisingly, this was confirmed by Emma Wakelin, Director of Research and Innovation at the RCA. She presented several case studies of multidisciplinary projects, where designers worked with health authorities to improve the design of ambulance interiors, for example. However, she went on to say that this approach would only work with designers, as they are outward-looking and the fine artists at the RCA do not work that way. There may be some artists who would disagree with that viewpoint.