Case study: Sun-powered textiles ; Designing in a collaborative setting

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Master’s Programme in Fashion, Clothing and Textile Design
Solving complex contemporary design problems requires teamwork. Design has always been an interdisciplinary field, however, the nature of collaboration projects has evolved. The aim of this master’s thesis is to provide insights into the role of a designer in a collaborative multidisciplinary project and to outline the contribution of design-driven methods in this context. This thesis reflects on the research and design process in a multidisciplinary research project, Sun-powered Textiles. It aims to elicit an understanding of a designer’s own practise in relation to a multidisciplinary research team and attempts to highlight the collaborative environment as the main factor influencing the course of research and design development. The theoretical overview of a cross-disciplinary design collaboration in design, which is accompanied by an interview, aims to establish the boundaries defining the current and future role of a designer in a collaborative setting. It further presents research methodology often used in collaborative design research. The theoretical background of solar energy harvesting provides an explanation of the technology at stake. Additionally, an overview of existing methods in photovoltaic textile integration further provides the gateway to the understanding of its limitations and opportunities. This theoretical overview is accompanied by a literature review of the topic of smart textiles and wearable electronics. Lastly, the review of projects relevant to the topic of photovoltaics integration in textile and fashion design is presented. The practical research of this cross-disciplinary project follows the practice-led research methodology in the context of the Sun-powered Textiles case study. The practise-led research methodology is further informed by research documentation, comprised of diaries, notes, sketches, photographs and textile samples. The case study unfolds the process of collaboration, beginning with the description of a preliminary study and the use case development. The study further presents an empirical inquiry into the optical properties of weave structures, colours, material and different foils. Results of this research are further utilized in a collection of woven textiles. The structure of the practical research is further led by visual research, intuition, experimentation and creative thinking. The case study is narrated through the optic of a designer. The analysis of the Sun-powered Textiles case study showed that the ways in which a design practitioner engages in multidisciplinary research is informed by the team members coming from other disciplines as well as by randomly occurring events. Team members from the Department of Physics unintentionally inspired many of the design ideas and solutions. The designer’s visual thinking initiated experimentation and new inquiry interests and eventually led to a widening of the possible solutions to a problem. Furthermore, the somewhat more pragmatic and practical design-driven approach to solution finding helped in guiding confusing moments of research. By highlighting some of the crucial moments in the Sun-powered Textiles collaboration, it can be concluded that designers, whose practice does not predominantly originate in engineering can be a valuable asset in collaboration due to their holistic approach and experimental ways of thinking. This can consequently generate ideas and concepts contributing to new solutions which are outside of what’s considered usual or appropriate. Opting for the not so obvious choices can be the way of initiating change.
Salolainen, Maarit
Thesis advisor
Ilén, Elina
Salolainen, Maarit
collaboration, multidisciplinary, innovation, creativity, textile design, cross-disciplinary, design, weaving