Spheres of Practice for the Co-design of Wearables

Sue Fairburn, Josie Steed, Janet Coulter

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This research addressed new research paradigms between design, science and technology. A series of iterative investigations over a longitudinal period developed new knowledge informed by each subsequent project. The Second Skin project extended this knowledge to find common research ground between multiple academic disciplines. It comprised themed workshops on health and technology and this author led on extending workshop outcomes to facilitate and participate in a research symposium at Ulster comprising themes of e-textiles, medical textiles and ageing in place. Outcomes informed a follow up research workshop at Ulster with the core team to explore wellness in ageing, using empathic and transformative design. Three different scenarios of elderly end-users were proposed as a vehicle to consider users’ needs in the context of ageing and their emotional relationships with textile products. These were framed in a way that did not predetermine the outcomes. They formed the foundations for further multidisciplinary collaboration with computer scientists and design teams. Building on previous knowledge, asking iterative questions; developing scenarios; exploring materials; generating concepts and rapid prototypes resulted in emotive and novel e-textile artefacts. These were not intended as final solutions but served as tools to evoke further debate and explore what it means to be “that wearer”.

The process was original and agile, enabling multi-component, multi-site and multi-disciplinary research. Significantly its ‘thinking through doing’ ethos underpinned the research and embedding a hacker-culture created common ground between computer scientists and designers.

Scenario-based proposals enabled distinction between different ages and needs of ‘elderly’ users. The rigorous process engaged end users, industry and academics from multiple disciplines, exploring open formats at various sites over a longitudinal period of time to achieve meaningful new knowledge. Multidisciplinary, practice-led research shifted the paradigm of what design is, to what it could become as a collaborative, transformational and end-user experience.
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 statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Dec 2016


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

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