“When Designers and Researchers Work Together” – Liang Yue
The synergy between academia and industry has always been productive, innovative, yet frictional. Pauline Van Dongen, a fashion designer, and Lianne Toussaint, a scholar of media and culture, have been collaboratively working together and mutually inspiring each other with their own specialty. As both “design thinking” and “theory-inspired practices” have been addressed several times in the previous Transmission in Motion seminars, Pauline and Lianne’s work is an extraordinary example of combining doing and researching techniques and benefits. What impressed me most was their inclusivity of aesthetic and utilitarian values: their products are not merely artistic practices that spark abstract thoughts but also deal with social and ethical issues in everyday life, such as the ongoing project – sustainable isolation suits and face masks in health care.
For garment designers, visual aesthetics and functionality have always been priorities in their design artifacts, and the techno-materials are just instruments to achieve these sensorial impressions and functional affordances. However, if we look at the fashion technology design from a more artistic and philosophical perspective (with the help of an art and culture scholar), there are many potentials that techno-materials can bring out. For example, following a post-phenomenological approach, the techno-garments can influence or alter the wearers’ interactions with their surroundings and others, and have social and cultural roles – new relations are built between human beings and the world. In other words, design involves not just designing products but also designing human-world relations (Verbeek 2005). Deviating from the intention of data monitoring and customer analysis, designers break free from the rigid framework and embrace the playful experiment with uncertainties and potentials. Just as Pauline concludes about her techno-fashion practices during the seminar, “the techno-fashion blurs the boundaries, materially mediates and strengthened the relations between the human body, technology, and fashion.” After showing these potentials, materials are not just the components to create aesthetics but have proved their original aesthetics as well.
On the researcher’s side, Lianne also admits that establishing a middle ground for themselves needs to relinquish the arrogance of academia. On the one hand, there are many more obstacles in the making and testing stage than on the ideal blueprint so that no presupposed outcome should be given before the product is complete. On the other hand, although fashion technology design can be subjective and non-customer-oriented, qualitative and quantitative analyses based on research feedback are necessary to examine whether the garment has achieved or partly achieved the goal of bridging new sensibility between human and world, or between body and perception. These differences make the scholars who work with designers structure their research papers more empirically, and their theoretical discussions always adhere to the properties of materials or the feedback from wearers and testers. In other words, researchers shift their attention from the materiality of the materials to the materials themselves.
- Verbeek, Peter-Paul. 2005. What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design. Pennsylvania State University Press.