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Materials Liaisons: facilitating cross-disciplinary communication

Can designers and scientists speak the same language?

September 2016 marked the beginning of a nine week period of ‘design-driven’ materials prototyping, involving designers, design researchers, scientists and manufacturers working in different countries simultaneously. Dr Rosie Hornbuckle studied the intervention that enabled this cross-disciplinary prototyping, presenting the results at DRS2018.

Cross-disciplinary dialogue is increasingly important to circular textile design as design researchers are involved in more multi-disciplinary teams seeking sustainable solutions, as was the case with the Trash-2-Cash (T2C) project. Yet designers and materials scientists use very different language when communicating about materials, with designers preferring visual, sensorial and descriptive media while scientists need data to understand how to produce particular material properties. This communication disparity becomes a huge challenge in interdisciplinary materials development as collaborators struggle to understand one another. Faced with the challenge of producing new material prototypes driven by early-stage design concepts for the first time, the T2C methodology team trialled an experimental communication strategy involving ‘Materials Liaisons’. Dr Rosie Hornbuckle documented the process, revealing that people with a good understanding of materials and design language can enable effective communication across disciplines. The research revealed the characteristics of individuals who performed ‘boundary-spanning’ roles, translating design ideas into the technical language needed to create materials. Rosie discovered that visual language was useful to engineers as well as designers allowing them to imagine what designers ‘have in mind’ when technical information was not available. Rosie presented this research at DRS 2018 conference in Limerick.

A group of people standing around a table of material samples