BA Textile Design: using digital technologies to reflect on analogue practices

BA Textile Design 'Printerest' board

Anne Marr is course leader for BA Textile Design at CSM. Traditionally a hands-on and three-dimensional practice, we asked Anne how the programme interacts with digital technologies and found a symbiotic relationship. From a research project encouraging students to think about trends in social media, to using e-portfolios in the recruitment process and mounting an analogue Pinterest – or Printerest – board in the print studio – it’s all about finding the right combination.

Encouraging real life interaction: ideas for a CSM app

We briefed ‘The Trend Project’ to our first year students in the summer term, and they were asked to look at new trends in social networking. It was purely a research project, and we were trying to get them to think in a wider way and not to focus solely on textiles. We had ten groups, and they all did something completely different. But one group focused on student life and how, maybe, a mobile app could enhance social activity between students. Much of the project picked up on that – that there seems to be a lot of ‘digital community’ but not so much ‘analogue community’ anymore. We are quite a big course, 210 students in total, and our students always say how they find it difficult to meet up and to build up a network.  They also felt that it would be useful to build up a university network, so that you can meet with other textiles students from Chelsea, or so that you could meet up with Fine Art students from here at CSM. There are already 5,000 students at CSM.

The app was called ‘Get Involved via CSM’. They researched how people use social media and connect to it, and whether students would find a social networking site created for sharing schoolwork or lecture notes useful. And from there they came up with different ideas for their app – you can see some presentation slides here:




Does the building make interaction easier?

In this new building, I think it’s easier to see what’s going on. Whether the students then actually communicate, I’m not 100% that’s happening yet, or if that’s still something to come. This project took place at the end of the students’ first year at College, and they obviously came up with the idea because they thought there was a lack of communication, and that so much is virtual today; we don’t have physical notice boards anymore so communication has become hidden in a sense. So it’s almost too sophisticated – everyone just has their little iPhone – that communication has almost become invisible in a way, and that’s one thing they picked up on.

BA Textile Design ‘Printerest’ board

How can textile design and the digital world interact?

Digital is a good thing – I’m really excited about all the different options you could bring in – but I think at the moment there is a trend going back to analogue things. We just made a ‘Printerest’ – an analogue ‘Pinterest’ in our studio space – so that everybody could bring physical stuff in and put it on the wall. Because everything’s virtual, and sometimes as a textile designer you want to look at the proper colours printed out, or you want to have something in your hands, it’s still difficult to completely simulate online

But what you can do, on the other hand, is generate beautiful photos and visualisations that don’t necessarily have to have fantastic quality of textile design behind them, but they look really sophisticated online. You’re almost creating a different kind of online package about your project than you would see in reality. And both are valuable equally, because that online package could create a whole new context for the work, but it doesn’t always give you the same quality that you see in real life and hold in your hands.

What is interesting in that respect is that we’ve just changed from getting all students to bring in classic analogue folios when applying for the course, to asking them to create a mini e-portfolio, either as a CD or a as a print-out. We have so many applicants to filter through that we needed to come up with a new approach, but I was really worried that this solution could be tricky because you don’t always get the same quality out of the digital folio – from a textile perspective – as you would do from an actual piece of work. However, we found that around 80% of the folios represented the analogue physical work really well. We looked at the mini e-folios first. And say we have 250 applicants initially, we then narrow down our final selection to 80, just from the e-folios, and after that invite those 80 students to interview and bring their real physical folios in. Looking though the shortlisted 80, we realised you really do get the flavour of an individual’s work from the digital representations, and that was a bit of an eye-opener. We’ll definitely continue with that process.

Visualisation by Ola Olayinka

The right balance

I wouldn’t say everything was better before and now it’s not good. I think it’s good now as well, and there are lots of evolving possibilities that will be exciting to follow up. But what I get from the students is the feeling that they miss that kind of direct personal involvement. It’s finding the right balance and combining it in the best way, like Sian Evans’ Facebook site for CSM BA Jewellery Design – it’s a fantastic initiative that’s beneficial for everybody.

Watch out for BA Textile Design’s soon-to-be-launched site PrINTEREST! Specialist Area Leader Jo Pierce has initiated this new digital space.