Dr Joan Farrer discusses the groundbreaking work of DR-i
18 Jul 2012
Design and craft continue to be a major strength of the University of Brighton, with major research projects at the heart of the discipline.
The Faculty of Arts exploits the collective strength of its research staff through the Design Research Initiatives, DR-i, a research group led by Dr Joan Farrer. The group aims to maintain the high standards of innovation and creativity that the faculty’s designers and makers are known for and to be a catalyst for connectivity among not only the faculty members but other designers at home and abroad.
When Dr Joan Farrer took over the leadership of DR-i at University of Brighton Faculty of Arts, she conceived of the many ways the letter “i” in its name could be nuanced. Not simply “initiatives,” for Joan the “i” can highlight the many strengths that a research collective can offer to the research community here at Brighton.
She explained some of these at the Annual Research Festival when she talked about DR-i at length:
As a research group, DR-i attempts to redefine and promote recognition of the fundamental significance of design, aiming to encourage collaboration with researchers across different disciplines. It is particularly concerned with the facilitation of innovative thinking across the spectrum, initiating design research in a wide range of contexts including arts, science and engineering.
As for her own work, Dr Joan Farrer is a Reader in Design and Materials for wood, plastics, ceramics, metals, fashion and textiles and she brought an unusual and impressive CV to the faculty in 2010, based on her work in both the international commercial, industrial and academic sectors in textile technology and fashion design. Her main expertise is in sustainable and 'smart' fashion, textiles, fibre and materials, and her trans-disciplinary collaborations include physical and biomedical science, computing and mathematics, frequently collaborating with university’s Schools of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences and in Computing, Mathematics and Science in other national and international institutions.
Dr Farrer has initiated and acted as bid collaborator on a range of highly innovative design projects. The success of the bids is significant and has seen design being part of more than £5.5 million in research funding for the University of Brighton since 2011.
In her role leading the Design Research Initiatives, DR-i , she considers what design research from vanguard practitioners is, reflecting on the early work of Bruce Archer at the Royal College of Art and the development of design as a research discipline with its own methodologies.
Bruce Archer promoted the use of systems-level analysis, evidence-based design, and evaluation through field testing within industrial design, and led a multi-disciplinary team which employed these methods in practice. As head of a postgraduate research and teaching department he identified that scholarly inquiry in design was just as vital as it was in the arts, the humanities and the sciences, and argued that design warranted its own body of scholarship and knowledge no less than conventional academic disciplines. He proposed that modelling be recognised as the fundamental competence of design, just as numeracy underpins mathematics and literacy the humanities and he believed that – like both literacy and numeracy – it should be widely taught.
Archer trained a generation of design researchers, showing them how the procedures of scholarly research based on well-founded evidence and systematic analysis were as applicable in design as in the more traditional academic subjects. For design practice he argued there was a need for method and rigour, and for decisions to be recorded and explained so they could, if necessary, be defended. Thirty or forty years ago, Archer’s ideas were radical and pioneering, and the very existence of his research department - in an art college - controversial. It was his own force of character and his persuasive ability to argue his case with absolute clarity and conviction that ensured the department’s survival, and provided him with the opportunity to demonstrate that design is a knowledge-based discipline in its own right.
It is this ethos that Joan wants to carry forward through the work in design at Brighton. Her commitment to the future of design thinking, and to the many “i”s that remind us of the importance of design in the world, has resulted in a research group that is well placed now to bring funding to world-changing projects, to inform the teaching of young designers and design researchers, and to harness the individual energy and excellence of our staff in design at the University of Brighton Faculty of Arts.
Other research projects with DR-i include:
Barrier Solutions: developing clothing textiles, which alert the wearer of impending over-exposure to carcinogenic UV rays.
BRIDGE, Building Innovation Deals within the Green Economy: An INTERREG IVA project between Southern UK and Northern France developing the use and promotion of green materials from agriculture and waste wood and textile streams.
LIGHT: Photodynamic therapy used to produce dressings for the care of non-invasive treatment of infected wounds.
Ostomy connection device: using knit technology to improve patients’ quality of life following surgery.
Community21: An online project designed to empower and support local communities.
Inheritable Futures Laboragory (IF:Lab): a sustainable design research studio working across industry and academia.
Mooncup: development of a reuseable sanitary product through a knowledge transfer partnership.
Digital Archaeology: exploration through the merging of traditional craft techniques and digital technology.
The Breathing City: exploring modes of representation that connect the person with the scientific and the sensory experience with the rational.
Breaking the Mould: development of an application to produce complex 3D design in high performance polymers and elastomers using digitally printed moulds.
Inter-cultural chair design: collaboration with Nagoya University, Japan.
DR-i continues to make bids with other University of Brighton faculties for further research such as with the Interreg 1VA FlexFibre project with French partners on biodegradable composites and applications for 2.6 million Euros, which has been submitted and awaiting confirmation.