The mediating role of product representations. A study with three dimensional textiles in early phases of innovation
Smart textiles are understood as textiles, where new functions are integrated to form a textile system that can react and interact with the environment. These new textile systems place completely new demands on the actors in the development process. With smart textiles at hand, the textile sector is almost facing a paradigm shift, which requires new manufacturing techniques; new ways of working and new roles need to be developed. New collaborations across disciplinary boundaries need to be created in order to generate new innovative products. Research state that it is of paramount importance that users are involved as early as possible in the development process of innovative products, the argument being that they possess knowledge regarding the product and its everyday use, which is lacking among designers. However, such user involvement may be limited to users acting as informants or as evaluators, but the involvement can also develop into the user becoming a member of the multidisciplinary team, a co-designer representing his/her own discipline. This is argued to facilitate the recognition of user needs and taking of them into consideration in the development process. However, such teams also face a number of challenges. One of the challenges is that the team members often lack a common language and use of terms, as they need to establish cross disciplinary communication in order to successfully specify a common goal. Furthermore, it is necessary to convert knowledge from one area of expertise into information, which is comprehensible to someone with other experiences and skills, as this makes the knowledge valuable to a individual, who has a different background or views the problem from a different perspective.
The case presented in this study concerns a project where a multidisciplinary team was gathered to explore the possibility of using three-dimensional weaving techniques combined with smart textile technology to solve a clinical problem in long-term monitoring of brain activity (EEG). In the project, textile product representations were developed iteratively in collaboration with the user of the future product.
The case studied aimed to understand how product representations can facilitate the dialogue in multidisciplinary teams in order to bridge the gap between users and designer. The analysis of the data reveals the importance of the product representations mediating the discussions and the sharing of knowledge but also that the product representations played different roles in the process. Five different roles were identified, the roles have further been categorized into two main groups: explanatory and concrete roles and more proactive roles.
The explanatory roles are defiend such as;
-’verbaliser' serving as a facilitator to fill in where words as missing or terms are not understood,
- ’demonstrator’ helping to concretize questions and answers between the user and the designer.
The more proactive roles were defined as;
- ‘visualisers’, which denotes situations when representations support individuals to recall or evoke mental images,
- ’stimulators’ that support the generation of new ideas or design solutions and the progression
of new ideas and new shared knowledge in the project, and
- ‘integrators’ that support the integration of perspectives between different disciplines and unites different perspectives in the team.
The conclusion of this study is that the representation supports and facilitates the collaboration and communication across disciplines, bridging gaps and generating new shared knowledge.