Current visual research practice and the use of museums in fashion and textile design higher education in England
This research has revealed how the practice of visual research is potentially transformational, that is concerned with making connections between the past, present and envisioned futures, the personal and collective, involving a process of play, intellectual engagement, material experimentation, dialogue and reflection. Building on the concepts developed by Drew, Shreeve and Bailey (2003) ‘deep’ or transformative visual research is an activity of construction at the heart of which is a ‘search for the self’. This search is both materially and subjectively enacted: the material is produced and transformed by the subject and the subject is made through the material. Transformational visual research re-imagines, is reciprocal and without conclusion or end, but continually spinning new threads of possibilities. Visual research is not a ‘stage’ or precursor to design but the source of design, aiming to articulate new and meaningful relationships. This thesis argues that transformational visual research is a dialectic between the self, the social and material worlds, between the past, present and imagined future.
This project, by building on effective visual research practice and by indeed articulating these complex issues, establishes a pedagogical and methodological grounding with the aim of empowering both students and educators through the development of a greater awareness and understanding of the process.
The thesis examines the practice of visual research as it is currently embedded in fashion and textile design education at undergraduate degree level in England, with the aim of developing its potential for transformative learning. Significantly it has sought to explore how museums are utilised in this process, with a particular focus on the Victoria and Albert Museum. Visual research, evidenced through a specific quantitative survey and a literature review, is widely practiced in design education in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless this practice is under-researched and under-theorised and frequently stands as an instrumental and procedural activity rather than a constitutive part of the design process. This study has explored what visual research entails and what role it plays in students’ learning and development. The aim is to articulate a theoretical framework of visual research as an identifiable, rigorous research activity to inform design pedagogy and museum interpretation.
Ethnographic approaches have been employed here to explore how visual research is enacted and perceived by a group of self-selected student-participants who were followed over the first two years of their degree. Evidence gathered includes over one hundred interviews, observational notes, course documents as well as several thousand photographs of students’ work. The qualitative material – verbal, textual and visual – has been analysed using a grounded theory approach informed by Glaser and Strauss (1969), to build the theoretical framework.
This PhD has been funded by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Design (CETLD) at the University of Brighton and the V&A and the Higher Education Academy’s Art, Design and Media Subject Centre (ADM-HEA).
The Faculty’s Research Student Division has also generously funded necessary software and conference attendance.
What is visual research?
There is a critical methodological difference between visual research as conducted by a theoretician, and visual research as a part of the design process. The former is concerned with analysis and interpretation, the latter with interpretation as a means for visualisation.
The pedagogical aims behind visual research for designers are to prepare, collect and build up a catalogue of inspiration creating a foundation for design development. Visual research frequently takes the form of a sketchbook filled with visual information, but may also consist of more loosely collated material or three-dimensional objects.
Visual research may be defined as whatever is selected to contribute to the development of design ideas. This research aims to uncover the ways in which the students perceive and approach this process. An early hypothesis is that visual research conforms to a constructivist perspective of learning, where the learner actively constructs knowledge internally but always within a social context. This type of learning is idiosyncratic, context-dependentand ‘involve personal identity and the search for personalrelevance’ (Hooper-Greenhill: 2002). Fashion and textile design education’s emphasis on the development of personal visual expressions, where the students are encouraged to express and articulate their ideas and hence learning, in visual and textual terms, can be said to be a learner-centred pedagogy. This perspective is also prevalent in contemporary museum pedagogy, where museum educators recognise that learning is constructed by the visitor, that learning must be active and that learning lies in the experience and in the learner’s own interpretation of it. (Eilean Hooper-Greenhill: 2002 and George Hein: 1998).
Museums have still not entirely expelled didactic and behaviourist explanations of learning and fully incorporated constructivist learning strategies. This research aims to articulate approaches for constructivist learning in the museum through visual research, using the V&A as a case study. It proposes that the so far under-researched pedagogical theories behind visual research may contribute to museum pedagogy. A central outcome will be to identify methods and practices that will further promote and exploit the museum’s potential as an educational institution for fashion and textile design students.
The focus of this research will be on fashion and textile design students. It is however anticipated that the methodology and proposed outcomes will be transferable to other areas of design. The research will ask questions such as:
The study will also attempt to develop a typology of students’ ways of doing visual research and address implications for constructivist museum pedagogy.
This research will take an ethnographic approach and will be phenomenological in its orientation, by which is meant a methodology that attempts to understand the point of view of its subjects and the meaning they construct through their interactions and experience of events.
Presentation: Towards an ethnography of creativity: Capturing method, process and meaning in design learning, CLTAD Methodologies symposium, London College of Communication, 17 March
Presentation: Image, Imagination and reflexivity in an ethnographic study, Visual Methods Conference, University of Leeds, September
Presentation: Strange, wondrous things: Museum objects as learning resources in visual research. Material Worlds Conference, University of Leicester, December
Presentation: ‘I loved it dearly’: recalling personal memories of dress in the museum, Fear ofthe Unknown: Sackler Centre Inaugural Conference, Victoria and Albert Museum, November
Presentation and proceedings: Resourceful objects: the V&A as a learning resource for 'visual research' in textile design education. Enhancing Curricula: CLTAD International Conference, New York April
Presentation: Creating an archive of memory in the museum, Hidden Histories: Brighton’s Postgraduate Design History Society symposium, University of Brighton, June