Douglas Atkinson

Working Title: Digitally Capturing Touch Usage in Garment Design Development

Douglas’ doctoral research aims to understand the meaning-making role played by forms of touch during the process of garment design development, additionally speculating on how the documented touch practices might be captured or replicated digitally. Thus supporting existing meaning making paradigms as garment design development activities are increasingly digitised, both in industry and education.

Research Questions

  • What are the contemporary touch practices of fashion design learners during the creative process of garment design development?
  • What are the perceived purposes of, and understandings or meanings derived from these touch practices?
  • What features of these touch practices can be captured using digital touch technologies?
  • What are the speculations and social imaginaries of fashion learners on the future application of digital touch technologies in the fashion industry?

As touch experience is both individually subjective and socially constructed, Douglas contrasts autoethnographic, sensory accounts of his own garment design development practice with data gathered during sustained ethnographic case-studies with Postgraduate fashion learners at two UK Arts and Design Universities. In analysing the ethnographic data, the methodological and analytical approaches of ‘Multimodal Ethnography’, ‘Sensory Ethnography’ and ‘Thing Ethnography’ are layered. Respectively focusing on the structuring of meaning making through touch, the subjective, emplaced sensory experience of participants and researcher and finally the perspective of a non-human ‘thing’. For example a tool or material which is utilised in the process of garment design development. This accounts for diverse perspectives and creates a balanced ontological focus between humans and the things we manipulate, in line with Posthuman and New Materialist philosophies.

img_9505Participant design for a VR sculpting glove, allowing the user to generate form and manipulate fabric in three dimensions


A concluding workshop will be held to explore the social imaginaries of the research participants. Facilitating them to create design fictions exploring how they think emergent and unfixed digital touch technologies may impact the fashion industry in the future. The objects created to represent these design fictions (physical diegetic prototypes) will be analysed through the emerging practice of Anticipatory Ethnography, testing whether engaging with a prototype through touch can situate and emplace a researcher in a proposed future scenario. Thus helping to engage with questions of the social impact of emerging touch technologies and how the future might feel?

Douglas’ doctoral research will contribute to understandings of the role of touch in fashion practice, the role and potential agency of non-human things in the process of garment design development and to the exploration of emerging ethnographic methods. Insights gained from the research are hoped to inform future garment design development software and interfaces, along with fashion design pedagogy.