Torben Lenau > Smart and structural textiles and composites > Elisabeth Heimdal Master Thesis

Interactive Inspirational Tool for Responsive Textiles
Master thesis by Elisabeth Heimdal, January-July 2009

From we are born and until we die, we are surrounded by textiles that are directly in contact with our skin as clothing, part of the interior environment in our homes, at work, in hospitals, in cars and in public transportation, or part of the outdoor environment as geotextiles. Many of these textiles are designed from aesthetic and functional requirements; some are designed for only one of the two kinds of requirements.

Compared to most other (stiff) materials, textiles have unique properties: they are stretchable and flexible; this partially explains the versatility of applications where they are used. Furthermore, their nature is changing, as they are given new properties and functionalities. Many responsive materials and textiles have in fact been developed since the 1970s, mainly for applications such as aerospace and the military.

However, the potentials within these responsive materials and textiles are unknown to many. That is why the design company Diffus started the Interactive Sample Book (ISB) project, in order to explore and communicate some of these possibilities to designers; companies and institutions that desire to start working with these materials.

Hence, this thesis investigates how examples of responsive textiles, made of a combination of responsive materials, electronics and sensor technology, can be used as inspirational tools in a design process. More generally, it addresses the following research questions:
1. What role does the presentation of physical objects play in creative work?
2. How can physical objects be introduced and integrated in a design process to stimulate inspiration?
3. What characterizes physical objects used to stimulate inspiration?

The project team is interdisciplinary, involving persons with varied educational and professional backgrounds, as the field of responsive textiles is interdisciplinary in its very nature. This has largely influenced the character of the design process, which was event-driven, and characterized by communication challenges and a well thought out use of representations.

Concepts for five responsive textiles have been developed; two prototypes, and several intermediary materials have been produced. Technical and aesthetic aspects of the used materials have been investigated. Tests have been made to investigate the inspirational quality of the produced physical objects, and to see how they can be part of a design process.

These reveal how physical objects can be used as triggers for idea generation, or as solution inputs in an already ongoing design process with defined requirements. They also reveal the importance of a certain generic character of the inspirational physical objects, and how the objectís complexity affects its inspirational qualities. Finally, they show how the influence created by an inspirational object can take place in different ways.

Keywords: Responsive (Smart) Materials and Textiles, Material Innovation, Physical Objects, Inspirational Tools and Textile Design.