From Blog post

EAD11: The Value of Design Research

LOGO-GRAND-HD_0In late April - while Tom was busy at the Infinite and Various conference in Bradford - three fifths of the Design Routes team (Martyn, Jeyon and I) descended on Paris for the 11th European Academy of Design conference, with the theme ‘The Value of Design Research’.

I gave a paper relating to the project as part of the Design Research & Crafts track, entitled ‘Design for “domestication”: the decommercialisation of traditional crafts’. Here’s the abstract of the paper - you can read the full thing here.

This paper explores the contribution of design to the ‘domestication’ of traditional crafts: the reframing and support of such practices as amateur activities. Informed by twelve examples, six design strategies for the domestication of traditional crafts are identified and discussed.

This issue emerges from a research project investigating the role of design in developing and revitalising culturally significant designs, products and associated practices. Within this paper, we focus on strategies that seek to revitalise traditional crafts by supporting domestic activity. This topic is introduced through a discussion of commercialisation, a more common approach to revitalisation.

Domestication diagram for webTwo contemporary social trends support domestication: the strong interest – particularly in post-industrial countries – in provenance, local distinctiveness and authenticity; and the growth of maker culture and its ethos of amateur creativity.

We gather twelve examples of various formats – such as books, kits, online communities, videos, workshops and holidays – which support amateur activity. The examples are analysed via a matrix, which considers their characteristics in terms of two variables: the way in which knowledge is exchanged, and the degree of experimentation facilitated by the activity. By categorising the examples, we identify six domestication strategies, each of which involves a different combination of design activities. Finally, we discuss domestication in terms of skill and innovation, arguing that amateur practice has much to offer in both respects.

Of course, the best thing about a conference is meeting other researchers and hearing from people undertaking work in a similar area. Here are four papers which I found particularly relevant to the Design Routes research. Unfortunately the full papers aren’t on the conference website yet - though they should make it there eventually!

Craftsmanship merchandise for cultural heritage - Marco Bozzola, Claudia De Giorgi & Claudio Germak, Politecnico di Torino, Italy

Design per i beni culturali territorialiMarco spoke about a design research project he’d been involved with which brought together 30 local craft workshops with 150 design students in Turin and Piedmont, to try to create locally rooted products for sale in museum shops. He was kind enough to give me a lovely book showcasing the outcomes of the project, along with essays discussing the ideas behind it.

Many of these design initiatives involve the revitalisation of designs - particularly motifs and patterns - transposed into entirely new materials and product types. For example, one project used the Savoy knot (described as a distinctive design element from the local royal residences), applied within jewellery design and made using rapid prototyping.

Eliciting and activating the added value of design research on/for craft innovation - Eleonora Lupo, Politecnico di Milano, Italy

Eleonora gave a fantastic presentation about a research project, Contemporary Authentic, and discussed themes which relate strongly to the Design Routes research. As the project website explains: ‘The Project “Con­tem­po­rary Authen­tic Milano”, devel­oped by the research group Design for Cul­tural Her­itage of Politec­nico di Milano, aims at exper­i­ment­ing and devel­op­ing a pos­si­ble design dri­ven inno­v­a­tive sys­tem for exploit­ing the typ­i­cal craft and per­for­ma­tive knowl­edge of endan­gered mas­ters still active in Milano.’

Eleonora referred to the ‘activation’ of ‘culturally intensive’ products (which we might describe as the ‘revitalisation’ of ‘culturally significant’ products) and shared some fascinating perspectives about the ways in which design might contribute to this activation. As part of her presentation, she showed some very interesting-looking diagrams which provided ways of thinking about the relationship between the ‘authentic’ and the ‘innovative’ in any given initiative. I look forward to reviewing these in detail when I can get my hands on the full paper!

Adding value to a company by trilogy of research, craft, design - Dilek Hocaoglu, Dogus University, Turkey

iznikDilek talked about the tradition of tile-making in Nicaea and its recent revitalisation. As she explained, the Ottoman city had been famous for tile-making in the 15th and 16th centuries, but trade declined dramatically in the 17th century.

Rather amazingly, the technical expertise of this historical craft was rediscovered through painstaking research by the Iznik Training and Education Foundation, founded in 1993.

Today there are over 100 workshops producing the distinctive quartz tiles in both traditional and contemporary designs, which are being used around the world - and even in entirely new product areas, such as eyewear.

For our research, this is a fantastic example of a culturally significant practice - that is, a traditional manufacturing process - being successfully revitalised.

Images courtesy of Iznik Tiles & Ceramics

Decolonizing graphic design - Maria Rogal, University of Florida, USA

Maria spoke about her experiences of taking design students to work with Maya people in Mexico since 2006, developing graphic designs to help them promote their products to regional and international markets. Although the products in question seemed to all be food and drink, which lie outside our scope for Design Routes, the process of collaboration that Maria discussed is very relevant to our research.

She described the need for the students to take time to learn about the communities they were working with, to suspend their judgement, and - as she said - ‘to realise that we understood nothing’. As Maria explains in her paper abstract, this context creates a new model for graphic design: ‘it is important for design students to understand the people they work with as colleagues and co-designers, and not as clients’.

Heritage Crafts Association conference: A Place for Craft

Heritage Crafts AssociationAnother week, another conference! This time I popped down to London for the annual Heritage Crafts Association conference - now a regular fixture on my calendar, and always an excellent event.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Pat Reynolds, HCA’s Co-ordinator, last year to discuss the Design Routes research and how it might contribute to the revitalisation of heritage crafts in the UK. We’re hoping that the framework we develop through our research will showcase a ‘portfolio’ of options for intervention, which may be used when specific heritage crafts are under threat.

HCA’s work is also valuable for highlighting innovative examples of revitalisation - such as their initiative which used film to document the traditional craft of ladder-making - and showcasing the work of makers who are helping heritage crafts to evolve and remain relevant to contemporary life. At the conference, I was particularly struck by three presentations:

Mark Hogarth, Creative Director, Harris Tweed Hebrides

logoMark gave a great presentation about Harris Tweed and shared a range of tips for marketing heritage products based on their provenance and sense of place. He discussed the connection of the cloth to the landscape of Harris and Lewis and talked about a number of collaborations undertaken by the company - from Johnny Walker Black Label to Converse and the Ryder Cup. For the purposes of our research, this is a really interesting example of a culturally significant making practice, and its associated designs, being revitalised - or, as Mark suggested, being ‘open to continuous improvement’.

This great short film profiles the unique qualities of Harris Tweed Hebrides and its products.

Genevieve Sioka, Artisan & Craft Buyer, National Trust

national-trust-logo-pngGenevieve talked about the National Trust’s recently-launched initiative to sell locally-rooted ‘artisan and craft’ products in their shops. Their desire to source and showcase pieces directly linked to National Trust places and properties - whether made on-site, produced from local materials or taking inspiration from particular sites - links with a number of other projects I’ve been discovering recently where people are trying to develop new products for sale in historic buildings and museums.

For example, there’s the project in Turin and Piedmont I described in my last post; the initiative by women’s craft collective Shelanu to create souvenirs unique to Birmingham; and Made North’s Northern Industrial Project.

Felicity Irons, Rush Matters

Rush mattingFor me, the most memorable presentation of the day was by Felicity Irons, who spoke about her company, Rush Matters. The company produces incredibly beautiful traditional rush floor matting, along with other rush products. As they explain on their website, ‘The rush is plaited by hand, using a ‘9 end flat weave’ into lengths 3″ wide, and hand sewn together with jute twine. Each mat is made to each client’s requirements as a central mat, runner or fitted as a carpet, wall to wall.’

harvesting-newBut Rush Matters don’t just plait the rush - they harvest it too, spending each summer gathering an incredible 3,000 bolts of rush from rivers in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. As they explain on the website, the weather conditions while the rush dries out affect its colour: ‘… prolonged sun gently bleaches to warm honey tones. During windy weather the colours have a more vivid green/blue hue.’

An inspiring example of a traditional craft bursting with contemporary appeal - and made from amazing materials with a compelling connection to place. Wonderful!

Images by kind permission of Rush Matters.

Top 12 references

Design Routes bookshelfAround this time last year, having spent the first few months of the project wading through mountains of literature, I made a list of my top 12 sources - books, journal articles and conference papers - for the Design Routes research.

While I’ve found loads of fascinating stuff via the literature review, I felt that these sources provided particularly valuable insights into our topic - revitalising ‘culturally significant’ designs, products and practices through design - from a range of perspectives.

(Why 12? Well, I was aiming for 10 but couldn’t bear to miss any of these out!)

I shared the list with the rest of the project team at that point, but thought it would be nice to dig it out now and share it on the blog.

I’ve provided links where available, though unfortunately they’re not all open access.

Journal articles and conference papers:

Cohen, E. (1989). The Commercialization of Ethnic Crafts. Journal of Design History, 2(2/3), 161–168.

Kasturi, P. B. (2005). Designing freedom. Design Issues, 21(4), 68–77.

McAuley, A., & Fillis, I. (2005). The Orkney based craft entrepreneur: remote yet global? Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 12(4), 498–509.

Nugraha, A. (2010). Transforming tradition for sustainability through “TCUSM” tool. Synnyt, 20–36. [open access]

Shand, P. (2002). Scenes from the colonial catwalk: cultural appropriation, intellectual property rights, and fashion. Cultural Analysis, 3, 47–88. [open access]

Taylor, L. (1997). State Involvement With Peasant Crafts in East/Central Europe 1947-97: the Cases of Poland and Romania. In T. Harrod (ed.) Obscure Objects of Desire: Reviewing the Crafts in the Twentieth Century. London: Crafts Council, pp. 53–65.


Borges, A. (2011). Design + craft: the Brazilian pathSão Paulo: Editora Terceiro Nome.

Clifford, S., & King, A. (Eds.). (1993). Local distinctiveness: place, particularity and identity. London: Common Ground.

Craft Revival Trust. (2005). Designers Meet Artisans: a practical guide. New Delhi. [open access pdf]

Heying, C. (2010). Brew to bikes: Portland’s artisan economy. Portland: Ooligan Press.

Howes, D. (Ed.). (1996). Cross-cultural consumption: global markets, local realities. London: Routledge.

Luckman, S. (2012). Locating cultural work: the politics and poetics of rural, regional and remote creativity. Palgrave Macmillan.

In addition to these 12 excellent sources, I should give a mention to the Making Futures conference, which has been organised by Plymouth College of Art every two years since 2009 and explores the relationship between crafts and sustainable futures. Delving into their archives has revealed many fascinating and valuable papers. The next edition, in September 2015, is sure to be just as relevant!

Hannah Lamb

Last week I attended a conference (Infinite and Various) at Bradford College. It was very interesting and one paper in particular resonated nicely with the Design Routes project. This was delivered by Hannah Lamb, a lecturer in embroidered textile design at Bradford School of Arts and Media. The paper was titled Using Textile Archives Creatively.


Hannah talked about the particular learning aspects which the use of an archive offers to the designer. She talked about Experiential Learning, Transformative Thinking, Deep Learning, Engagement and the two approaches that could be taken when using an archive. These were “spotlight” where the designer specifically at a particular design type or artefact and “floodlight” whereby the attention is unfocussed.

She shared a really nice quote from embroidery designer Karen Nicol, about the way collections can inspire designs: ‘… like subliminal informing, seeing something with peripheral vision, like learning a language by listening to it in your sleep.’

Hannah went on to show how she had found a notebook which had belonged to a weaver from the 19th century and how this contained all the point paper designs and peg plans that this weaver had used. She had wanted to use these somehow so she had laid them in series along a length of 7 metres and then thought how she could capture the design essence of the man’s work by using an alternative textile design craft. She decided to use cross stitch, although she admitted to not really liking the technique, as this seemed to offer an interesting and creative expression of the original patterns.


I found this very interesting and represented how design could be used to revitalise something from the past that might have been lost to contemporary audiences. I thought her design solution/strategy/process model was clearly explained, could be followed by others and offered a valuable insight into one way to make successful use of a textile archive. The actual piece that she produced was lovely and it was easy to see how this could be adapted for commercial as well as artistic aims.

Hannah also discussed some of the barriers to using archives that exist and are faced by the designer. These included: handling or lack of, access, ability or inability to browse, copying/IPR, restrictions on media and photography.

I look forward to the publication of Hannah’s paper in a suitable academic journal in the future and I took the opportunity to invite Hannah across to Leeds soon to meet Amy and I.