Interdisciplinary Design Strategy

Interdisciplinary Design Strategy at the Institute without Boundaries

Post Graduate, 2012

Founded in 2003, the Institute without Boundaries (IwB) is a Toronto-based studio that works toward collaborative design action and seeks to achieve social, ecological and economic innovation. The Institute views the designer as a problem solver with the ability to effect positive change for humanity. The studio offers a one-year intensive post-graduate education in Interdisciplinary Design Strategy.

Since 2009, the City Systems project at the Institute without Boundaries has gathered interdisciplinary teams of students and professionals to examine the city at macro and micro scales and consider how design can expand the possibilities for our shared existence. Year three of the City Systems project asked students to examine and understand Edge Cities and propose new design strategies for sustainable suburbs. With the Town of Markham as the project partner, a small group of students embarked on a nine month journey, creating design visions to support Markham’s economic and sustainability objectives.

Learning Outcomes

Strategic Design Thinking

At the Institute without Boundaries, students learn to become strategic thinkers and problem solvers by practicing a design methodology of observation, ideation, and prototyping to address complex real-world social and environmental challenges.

Students apply a holistic or ‘systems thinking’ approach to understanding problems, and use design as a tool to map complex and inter-dependent variables. Students learn to identify leverage points in existing systems and seek innovative solutions by modeling, testing, and evaluating design proposals.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Students and faculty at the Institute come from a variety of academic and professional disciplines. Over the course of the year students collaborate with architects, historians, economists, interaction designers, and policy specialists–to name just a few–to imagine and create strategic innovation.

The diversity of ideas, experiences and individual strengths creates a dynamic culture that enables problems to be explored from multiple angles. Students learn to communicate and collaborate productively across disciplines, facilitating conversations and large scale design projects with diverse teams.

Project Management

Over the course of nine months, students at the Institute initiate, plan, and execute and number high profile and challenging projects. Students hosted three international design charrettes, produced a research report for our client partner, designed and built an exhibition for the Toronto Interior Design Show, developed dozens of design schematics, and ultimately produced a major strategic planning document. Each of these projects required students practice focused project management and organizational skills to manage multiple projects with many moving parts and multiple partners.

Stakeholder Consultation

Stakeholder consultation is a cornerstone of the design process that students practice at the Institute. As with any professional consultation, it is the student’s responsibility to identify who the stakeholders are on a project-by-project basis and to design solutions that respond to their unique needs and interests.

Because students in the City Systems – Edge Cities project were designing at an urban-scale, our stakeholders included citizens of Markham young and old, local business owners, and municipal staff. Stakeholder consultation happened in formal and informal ways, through interviews and charrettes.

Applied Design Research

The Institute teaches a Human Centred Design approach that asks students to practice empathy and really understand the needs of citizens and stakeholders. Student engage applied design research in the field, gathering information to establish a context for making informed decisions.

Field research takes the form of interviews, photo documentation and community engagement sessions. From there, concept-mapping, user-experience flow charts, and scenario-planning help students understand issues from a stakeholder’s perspective.

Communications Design

At the Institute, students refine their graphic and visual communication skills with every new design proposal involving numerous sketches, models, 3D renderings, and presentation packaging. Students learn that a good idea is worthless unless it can be presented and communicated effectively. Students sharpen their presentation skills with weekly critiques of design work before a rotating panel of industry professionals and stakeholders.

Photography by Michelle Hotchin

Final Project

COLAB: A Change Lab for Markham

The 2012 City Systems team proposed a forward looking strategy the Town of Markham. Students proposed COLAB, a laboratory for inter-departmental collaboration and problem solving within the municipality. COLAB draws on the resources of the municipality, the dynamism of the private sector and the wisdom of the community to research, design, develop and prototype innovative solutions for 21st century urban challenges. Read More

Curriculum Projects

COLAB: A Change Lab for Markham
COLAB is a laboratory for inter-departmental collaboration and problem solving within the municipality of Markham.

Old Kennedy Road Revitalization Strategy
The Old Kennedy Road revitalization strategy presents a new model for main street development in Markham.

International Design Charrettes
A charrette is an intensive, collaborative process that brings together students, community members and professionals to develop innovative solutions for complex issues.

Communications Design Toronto Interior Design Show
An exhibition exploring the changing relationship between the ‘urban’ and the ‘suburban.’

Green Street Infrastructure (Atelier SMALL)
A design proposal for sustainable street infrastructure and landscaping where the Rouge River Valley intersects Highway 7 in Markham.

OPEN TOWN Civic Literacy Toolkit (Atelier MEDIUM)
A toolkit to help citizens of Markham explore, understand and engage with the municipal process.

Live/Work Infill Housing Environmental Design
A live/work infill unit proposed for Markham’s Highway 7.

Wayfinding System for Cyclists Product Design
A wayfinding map and kiosk system designed to help cyclists navigate Markham.

Major Research Project
A summary of design research insights gathered by students in the first semester at the Institute without Boundaries.