Spheres of Practice for the Co-design of Wearables

Sue Fairburn, Josie Steed, Janet Coulter

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As expectations within the area of smart textiles increasingly become informed and driven by technological developments, the disciplinary boundaries and relationship between user and technological innovation will unavoidably transform. The authors venture that new paradigms of collaborative practice will inevitably develop between design and science, to more fully realize both the opportunities and contexts that wearable textiles offer. Drawing on previous work by the authors namely Molecular Imprinted Textiles (MIT – 2009/10), Future Textile Visions (FTV – 2010/11), Design Specks: Connecting People with Speckled Computing (2012/13), Second Skin (2013/14), and The S*** Word: Designing the Empathic Underwardrobe (2014), a model is proposed to more clearly understand and navigate between design, technology and application, and more importantly, between our cultural understanding of the user and the wearer. This paper reflects on a series of projects that inform a methodological approach: a process of asking questions; developing scenarios; exploring materials and making; generating concepts and building prototypes. Each project involved collaborations between design, academics, users and industry, and a form of co-design, where knowledge exchange was central, design was the intermediary, and the goal was to understand the drivers and the stakeholders. Simultaneously, this research sought to better understand and communicate the development of more empathic textile and fashion artifacts, and solutions. Co-design in this context is seen as a core approach to shifting the balance from technology as merely adjunct, or as a “hook” for marketers and users, to a more informed and harmonised position, where technology sits proximally and comfortably. The notion of interdisciplinary understanding, which tracks across domains of product, fashion and textiles, presents an approach where the application is still emerging. Through analysis of this progressive series of projects, the authors suggest that there is an opportunity to explore the inherent connectedness that textiles might offer for the integration and embedding of technology within material as a means to embrace these affordance opportunities. Central to this notion is the realisation of opportunities arising from dialogue and collaborative making (i.e. co-design), and for exploring the transformative notions of the user and the wearer. This paper led the authors to pose a set of questions that align to a four stage design process: Research, Define, Develop, Reflect, to frame findings and insights, and to outline the potential for future opportunities of working with technology to achieve the making and wearing of desirable materializations on the body.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-109
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Textile Design Research and Practice
Issue number1
Early online date12 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished online - 12 Dec 2016


  • wearable technology
  • smart textiles
  • co-design
  • design methods
  • digital fashion
  • prototyping


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