At UXMA we work for and with our clients on projects in a wide range of educational fields. By working together, we learn to rethink, change and optimise our existing processes. As Domain Lead at UXMA, Carina Wente is responsible for the further development of the Design department and is currently working together with Learning Experience Curator Aliena Lill on a project for a client from the higher education context. In the following interview, she reports on her view of collaborative and co-creative cooperation between different disciplines. To sum it up, education is not just a client issue for us.
Hello Carina! Tell us a bit about yourself. What topics and content are you particularly passionate about?
I came to UXMA as a communication designer who couldn’t be pigeonholed because I found several disciplines exciting. Having since arrived in the UX/UI field, it’s definitely the right place for me. For a few years now, I've been working on ethical issues around digital product development, i.e. how we as designers develop products that not only focus on users and their needs, but also respect people as a whole. My goal is to establish ethical design as an integral part of digital product development processes. We - and by that I mean everyone behind digital products, including software developers, product managers and project managers - are responsible for designing technologies in such a way that they are not only code-smart, but also emotionally intelligent, in order to enable a sustainable and healthy relationship with people.
What role does interdisciplinary work play in your everyday life?
UXMA means interdisciplinarity of software development and design. We experience the shared constructive discourse in the team every day and see it as an absolute advantage to combine worlds, to find a common language and to learn to understand each other. Co-creation has always been our strength, which ultimately leads to better results! You could say: one plus one makes three, not two. The collaboration of two or more different perspectives always produces more than the sum of the individuals.
Is this the first time you have come into contact with the discipline of social science in everyday project work/ in client projects? How do you perceive it?
On the client side, we deal with various disciplines - in the past with people from the social sciences. But this is the first time I'm working with an educator on the corporate side. Of course, every new perspective always changes the process - so working with Aliena is naturally different from working with people I know from the design or software field. The pedagogical field brings new methods and theoretical foundations that interrupt the (design) routines, complement the project approach and broaden perspectives.
Do you think space has to be actively created for this new perspective in the process?
Yes, definitely. We can’t assume that the new perspective will simply fit into the existing system. People need to be willing to fundamentally question what currently exists and to create something completely new together. It is important to be open to changing established processes as well as existing methodologies. This can only work by actively taking a step back. Those involved have to adopt a certain attitude and engage with each other, otherwise they're just walking next to each other (that would probably be: one + one = two) - but that's not how it works.
Where are the challenges? Has there been any friction? If not, (or not yet), where or when do you think there might be?
How do you deal with it or how do you come up with common solutions?
I think this is also a question of attitude. Because the less willing I am to get involved in something, the more likely it is that friction arises. It depends on how you approach each other and how you position yourself in the cooperation; how you talk about existing processes and whether you are able to question and break up them up together. The more open you are, the less friction there’ll be.
However, productive, good friction or positive tension, allows us both to grow beyond our own discipline. Through discourse we can arrive at something new! But we also have to endure this - or learn to endure it and deal with it. For example, through communication and transparency.
How do you build bridges between disciplines?
In my opinion, this requires openness, courage and a willingness to engage in discourse. Otherwise it won’t work. But if you dare, completely new thoughts, great and interesting discussion content and project results emerge.
Do you need artificially created formats to practise that - or it is something you either have or don’t have?
I think you can develop it. Either by actively experiencing it yourself or by consciously demonstrating it and living it. That's how it establishes itself. Especially when you are doing something for the first time - like the two of us in this process of experiencing design and education together. Sometimes you can't find an artificial format for it beforehand because the insights are only generated by the real moments. You just have to do it.
What have you learnt from the collaboration?
We are not that different in our process and approach - of course, pedagogy is a bit more reflective, but reflection is also an incredibly relevant part of the agile design process. So: there is a lot of overlap, it's just that some things are more or less pronounced in one discipline than the other. Especially in UX design, with its experience- and human-centred perspective and the question: "What do people/users need?
And that’s great because we can use the similarities that we have and find the potential in the differences or where the focus differs. I’ve also noticed that what we are doing here is valuable; the pedagogy is valuable. It is definitely constructive and profitable, for me personally, for both of us, for UXMA and for our clients. In any case, the learning up to this point is already a confirmation of the new professional and interdisciplinary territory we are entering here.