Accessing implicit knowledge of textiles and design - a smart, living archive for a heritage industry.

Lead Research Organisation: The Robert Gordon University
Department Name: Business School


Accessing implicit knowledge of textiles and design - a smart, living archive for a heritage industry (Williams et al)


Digital technologies provide opportunities to make available 'lost knowledge' (such as design artefacts, textiles and other objects) which may lie unutilized in disparate locations across the country. This research aims to assess the feasibility and potential impact of a smart, living archive to support knowledge access and sharing within the diverse textile design community. Objectives:
1. to develop a small-scale demonstrator of an innovative digital approach to creating and accessing textile design knowledge, based on a self-organising digital archive
2. to use the demonstrator as a vehicle for understanding and refining the processes required to enable providers and users to contribute to an evolving living digital collection;
3. to probe the potential of such a system to provide more flexible, interactive and collaborative engagement by and between academic and commercial designers, practitioner and academic researchers, as well as the wider community, catering for a range of search approaches, informal as well as structured
4. to identify the potential benefits of such a system to meet a range of research needs in practice (e.g. designers, heritage organisations, trend analysts) and academic disciplines (e.g. art and design, cultural history, etc)
5. to develop understanding of the potential impact and value of the digital resource for designers and manufacturers as holders of untapped knowledge related to textile design and production.
The project addresses issues related to the Translating Knowledge theme within the field of textile design. The research also encompasses universal issues such as co-creation, collaboration, inclusivity, authenticity, heritage, exclusivity, interdisciplinarity as well as the specific material culture of textiles.

This project aims to develop a demonstrator of a smart, living textile archive which would:
- collate a varied range of knowledge objects (e.g. designs, artefacts, narratives), selected from the contemporary and historical collections of the partner company, Johnstons of Elgin;
- enable the community to contribute to the archive as users: the proposed demonstrator would utilise data-mining tools to learn tags and organize the designs to enable a living archive which would continuously evolve based on user responses and criteria, making and refining connections between knowledge objects.
- offer a range of search approaches via a portal with smart search and browsing facilities, incorporating innovative approaches to tagging knowledge objects which will improve retrieval, offer suggestions and recommendations, and cater for more structured enquiry.

Although a number of textile archives do currently exist which offer access to a range of collections, they do not offer the level of support for wider knowledge-based processes being proposed here .

By developing a demonstrator of a smart, living textile archive the proposed small-scale study would offer a foundation to address questions related to the use of digital technologies to meet key needs recognized by previous research in the arts and humanities more broadly. The study would also lay a foundation for developing understanding of the wider knowledge-based processes: an under-researched area which has not been considered the UK textile industry and has been focused within a business and organizational context rather than a wider understanding of the processes inherent in the shared development of knowledge across the wider textile community.

Planned Impact

Accessing implicit knowledge of textiles and design (Williams et al)
Summary of Impact

Through a combination of design projects, branding and marketing, the textile industry has positioned itself on a historical legacy, yet the manufacturers, designers and end customers actually can't access the chronicles of information that build this rich interwoven narrative. The impact of this project is in how it engages these potential beneficiaries and primary users as co-creators of the knowledge-base comprising spoken & experienced histories, garments, textiles, design heritage and traditions.

Establishing users within the research/learning framework, the project aims to ensure industry connection, support and interest in growing the project to its full potential as a collective, commercial archive system. Within the context of the initial scoping study interviews, the project has also attracted interest from museums and educational programmes who see the potential for the model to communicate between traditional silos of information, and to transfer knowledge between industry, academia and consumers.
The project will actively involve stakeholders in the creation of an archive system for the textile and design industry; enabling those parties to author their personal and collective narratives, and build a community of users and beneficiaries. This inclusive methodology aims to ensure the adoption of both the proof of concept demonstrator model, and the subsequent commercial model.

The feasibility of this new model of archiving is tested and proven through comprehensive investigation of the implementation of this model in a manufacturing-based, heritage industry. The long-term aim of the project is to develop a new archival model that can be subsequently applied to a range of creative industry sectors; creating a platform for an industry & publicly accessible archive system.
Engaging the wider public - through revealing the wealth of interwoven stories, garments and textiles - helps support the aims of bodies such as Textiles Scotland, the Scottish Textiles Industry Association and the Scottish Academy of Fashion to promote the industry as a thriving and sustainable high-value manufacturing industry. Through involving employees within the sector, longstanding and potential customers and training providers such as Schools, Colleges and Universities, the project can help foster a greater social understanding and engagement with the industry, and encourage initiatives such as the modern apprenticeships for textiles.

The proof of concept study is one aspect of a gradually evolving project that grows into a new smart archiving system for the industry. If the public are emotionally engaged with the industry through the introduction of narrative and a responsive, reactive, living history, then the provenance of products increases and this translates into market growth. If the manufacturers are aware of, and empowered to exploit the value of their historic artefacts and knowledge, they can begin to nurture a system for managing and applying this value that evolves into scalable commercial sustainability and success.

As such, impact is achieved at all steps of the journey - each interview with a stake-holder, every conversation with a user, every archeological investigation of an old box in an attic, communicates the potential of the project.


10 25 50
Description Industry showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Approx 50 people from the textile industry and academia attended The Scottish Borders Design and Technology Showcase, held in Galashiels on 28 June 2012, presented ground breaking research in textiles and design technology. The research team from Robert Gordon University and Heriot-Watt University presented the Scottish Textile Archive STA(r) (AHRC/J013218/1) project in collaboration with our industry partner Johnstons of Elgin. Prof Dorothy Williams gave a presentation on 'Smart living archive for the Scottish textile community".

The pilot Sta(r) archive was demonstrated at the industry showcase event which allowed industry representatives to use the archive and provide valuable feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012