What else do we know?


A forthcoming article by Dr Rosie Hornbuckle examining the facilitation of inter-disciplinary collaboration, based upon her T2C paper ‘What else do we know?’, is soon to be published in the Journal of Textile Design Research & Practice. Here Rosie breaks down her key findings from the research.


The most obvious reason to include designers in a project like Trash-2-Cash, where the aim is to develop a new fibre, is so they can use their product design and their experience to show scientists what they would like the new materials to be like. But in the workshops I noticed that designers were actually performing a number of important roles other than designing products, that were supporting the project work in different ways. 


Asking different questions

The first thing I saw early on in the project was that designers were asking questions you wouldn’t normally associate with fashion and textiles, like ‘could this material be useful for migration?’, ‘how would this perform as a recyclable healthcare garment?’ or ‘how would this affect levels of ocean plastic?’. Bringing ideas about social and environmental issues into the discussion was an interesting and unexpected influence of the design team.


Understanding one another

Designers are usually great communicators and on a project where each person is from a different country, or has a different work background; communication is an incredibly useful skill. What I observed was that some designers, particularly the materials specialists, were very good at explaining design stuff to scientists and getting scientists to stop and explain their stuff for designers when it got too complicated. This was so useful that the project could have done with more people with those skills. These people were also great at grabbing a material to help a designer and a scientist explain something to one another, like ‘how soft?’, ‘this soft?’. 


Using design tools      

Designers are great at finding ways to get other people to contribute their ideas; they have a tool for almost everything. Some of the design tools used in Trash-2-Cash were a bit baffling for scientists – they were too designy, too abstract, and difficult to understand what they were for. While other tools seemed to work really well, especially when there was a clear purpose, like the capability map (image below) which helped people to show where their knowledge fitted within the project.


What does this mean?

The great thing that we discovered was that designers have a lot more to offer this type of project – where lots of different specialists work together – than just designing products, they can actually support the teamwork as well as potentially take it in different directions than would have been possible if scientists or manufacturers were working alone. This is good, because this is how innovation happens, by stepping outside of traditional ways of working and trying something new, and designers have an even more valuable part to play than many thought before this project began.


Rosie's paper 'What Else Do We Know? Exploring the application of design knowledge and skills for the circular economy beyond materials selection and design for production' can be read in full here.