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Spheres of practices for the co-design of wearables.

Fairburn, Sue; Steed, Josie; Coulter, Janet


Sue Fairburn

Janet Coulter


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.


FAIRBURN, S., STEED, J. and COULTER, J. 2016. Spheres of practices for the co-design of wearables. Journal of textile design research and practice [online], 4(1), pages 85-109. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 8, 2016
Online Publication Date Dec 12, 2016
Publication Date Dec 31, 2016
Deposit Date Feb 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 13, 2018
Journal Journal of textile design research and practice
Print ISSN 2051-1787
Electronic ISSN 2051-1795
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 85-109
Keywords Wearables; Smart textiles; Codesign; Design methods; Digital fashion; Prototyping
Public URL


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