chapter one



Disciplinary communities

11 March 2024

Research by Femke Coops
Text and editing by Alexandra Szwaj & Kornelia Dimitrova

Text and editing by Alexandra Szwaj & Kornelia Dimitrova

Download the full first chapter

How can we collaborate and communicate across disciplines?

This is the second instalment of Chapter #1 and we highlight the effect of disciplinary communities on how we frame our professional knowledge and the way we talk about it.

This first meeting marked the symbolic stepping over a threshold, the making of the group, and the first exploration of the differences, commonalities and opportunities between science and design. This unveiled a (complex) landscape that challenged the participants’ and our preconceived notions and enriched the understanding of both disciplines. It highlighted shared concerns, as well as opportunities for meaningful collaboration. The next three sections highlight the disciplinary, professional, social themes on which our first encounter focused.

Disciplinary communities and vocabulary

In this project, we see disciplines mainly through the people who belong to them. Whether in science or design, being part of a professional community means following the rules, methods, and values of your field and speaking its language. In both fields this is what gives professionals their authority and respect.
Different fields have different rules about what you can be an expert in and what topics you can work on professionally. For some scientists, specialising deeply in one area can be like working in a bubble. It makes it hard to switch to something else later on. Designers, on the other hand, often have more flexibility. They can move between topics and work with different people more easily. But this flexibility also has its challenges, like repeating the same ideas or not going deep enough.
Finding a common language is important when scientists and designers come together. Even if they use the same words, they might mean different things. So, we need to make sure we understand each other right from the start. Despite these challenges, both scientists and designers share a love for exploring new ideas. Creating a shared language is a big part of our project, helping us exchange ideas and learn from each other.


In this first group conversation, we realised that using specialised language is a way of showing expertise in both science and design, but that can also exclude others from the stories we want to tell, either as researchers or designers. This highlights how important it is to bridge the gap between our professional worlds for successful collaborations.

It might seem obvious to us how our own professional community functions, but that is part of our tacit knowledge. Taking the time to share that with collaborators from other professional communities, means to take care of how we start working with others. The next two instalments discuss the value of talking practically about how we work, and the role of societal and personal values in professional contexts.