Re-engaging with the intimacy of materials through touch

Montgomery, Bruce and Sams, Phil (2011) Re-engaging with the intimacy of materials through touch. In: International Conference 2011 of the DRS Special Interest Group on Experiential Knowledge, 23-24 June 2011, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham Castle, UK.

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In today’s retail led world consumers are suffocating through an excess of soulless products. It is time we paused to breathe.

"Touch has a memory" - John Keats. [A1]

It is often assumed that product designers, especially in the fashion industry, will have a deep understanding of the tactile properties of materials that they use. This tacit knowledge is also assumed to be an essential ingredient for intimate engagement with the materials, for touch is about direct contact, close and personal; it is not sensation at a distance in the way of sound and vision. Through this intimacy, the designer can fully understand the potential sensory impact on their customers and can share their knowledge of this intimacy with the customers.

However the rise of fast, offshore manufacture has led to a virtual design approach where cad-cam rules and the first direct contact that the designer has with their material is often when they receive the finished goods. The approach has become embedded in teaching, where virtual-oriented design is cheap and simple as well as effective.

This runs in parallel to what Black [A2] describes as "The Fashion Paradox", i.e. the tension between an industry which has become dependent on the overconsumption of the consumer society made possible by low cost design and manufacture processes with emerging imperatives of environmental and ethical issues. It has become easy to make and sell a lot of goods, but perhaps a new approach is needed before we drown in an ocean of stuff.

We hypothesise that a business strategy to introduce a new intimacy with materials to consumers through goods and experiences that celebrate "the joy of touch" will a) spawn better, higher value goods with cutting-edge appeal and b) provide a positive piece in the jigsaw necessary to address the Fashion Paradox, taking the line described by Fletcher and Early in "5-Ways" [A3, A4] that touch is relevant to the production of "supersatisfiers...which begin to break the chain of consumption and dissatisfaction".

There are always many old voices that decry the lack of materials knowledge in the "designers of today", and we do not wish simply to join them. To avoid this yet to achieve new thinking in the territory we take a tangential approach that does not get stuck into stuff to early.

Accordingly, the method will apply a method of research and teaching based on storytelling in multidisciplinary teams developed by Smith and Sams [A5, A6]. This reflects on the role of designer-storytellers described by Seah [A7] and Erikson [A8]. Thus, perhaps counter-intuitively, we seek to stimulate word-based approaches to a physical effect.

The resultant project vehicle "Touch Stories" is inspired by the observations of experimental psychologist Charles Spence, e.g. [A9], that people have difficulty in detecting and remembering touch, but can be taught touch skills. This builds on earlier design projects "Touch Gourmet" by Torres and Sams [A10]. We provide below a short summary of the science context as well as the more usual design context for the project.

The work described here is our first experiment using this method in the touch context with a fashion student community of young business and design professionals. In recognition, we report in the style of a science experiment - which also reflects the background of the second author.

We are at the very start of a journey which we intend to take well beyond fashion (for the challenge of new materials and "too much stuff" spreads well beyond Fashion and its Paradox), thus to stretch and develop the territory, through the processes described in [A5, A6]. It’s a journey the design world needs to ‘touch on’.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: touch, design, materials
Subjects: W200 Design studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Design
Depositing User: Bruce Montgomery
Date Deposited: 21 Sep 2012 14:02
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 13:01

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