TALKS | Co-design for equity, collectivism, and citizen movements

Anuvad: A Collaborative, Co-Creative Approach to Creating Crafted e-Textiles

Chhail Khalsa, India

Read the working paper ⇒  

Traditional craft is a skill or technique that is passed down by generations and often practiced to fulfil a social or cultural need. Craft is a practice that is undertaken mostly by hand and is informed through various cultural, traditional and social factors. However, there is a shift in focus happening, which provides hope: many designers are now exploiting the potential of traditional craft in their work and revitalising practices often with very ‘non-traditional’ ends. (Ebert et al. 2018). Craft is a term that is very broadly and variably understood by different people. The term traditional craft is more specific and refers to a craft technique that has been practiced over generations and usually for a very specific community or social need. Craft is often practiced in rural locations with limited accessibility. On the other hand technology can be looked at as being independent of cultures and traditions.

‘Anuvad’, a project that was developed as an independent research project and evolved itself into a master’s thesis. ‘Anuvad’ is a project that aims to bridge the gap between technology and textiles through design research, design aesthetics, and adaptable production. ‘Anuvad’ is a project that brings together these two widely different fields and creates innovative products, through implementing co-creative practices. The research results from this thesis project among others were fully functional e-textile product prototypes that demonstrate the potential of e-textile technology when integrated in the products with a high level of design and aesthetics. This was undertaken by collaborating with an indigenous craft community in western India, in the Bhujodi village, that carried out the production on the basis of an original hand-weaving technique. ‘Anuvad’ is a collaborative effort between a textile design researcher, a technology expert and the craftsmen. These three experts brought their competencies together to create innovative e-textile products.

By the virtue of its complexity, smart textiles or e-textiles are highly interdisciplinary in it’s approach. Thereby meaning that there are often more than one competencies involved in the development of these specialistic textiles, for e.g. an engineer and a designer, or a coder, and a maker , etc. In respect to Anuvad, this complexity was even higher with the presence of craftspeople in the process. Technological processes are fairly scientific, mathematical and straightforward. Whereas, the craft practices are emotional, instinctive, cultural and humane. Through the development of Anuvad, a clear need for a platform or common ground for communication was highlighted. The practice of craft is fluid, flexible and highly informed by cultural experiences. In this sense, a design intervention, particularly a design and technology intervention requires the support of a socio-technical communication structure that encourages ethical innovation and equal participation. It was therefore important to create and visualise a support structure in the form of a toolkit that made the craftsmen feel comfortable to participate actively in the development of the prototypes, thereby also promoting ethical innovation.

This paper would like to highlight the processes that were developed to enable effective three-way communication between the core stakeholders namely, the design researcher, who is also the author of this paper, a technology expert and the craftspeople. Owing to different exposures and understanding of the medium of craft and textiles, it was occasionally a challenge to mediate a discourse that could allow equal participation from everyone involved. Moreover, electronic textiles is a very experimental and unconventional field with limited rules and set practices. When dealing with a topic as fluid as e-textiles it was important to set the chain of communication that allowed for effective co-creation and ethical craft innovation. The so named ‘Craft collaboration toolkit’ is a documentation of insights in the form of method cards, that give suggestive measures to enable effective communication and empathy between a craftsperson and a non-craftsperson, such as a designer, technologist, maker , etc. The ‘Craft Collaboration Toolkit’ outlines, in a deck of cards, the challenges posed while working with craft communities and suggestive measures to overcome them. This is based on extensive field work and observation and is divided in 3 parts, pre-,during and post-fieldwork. (ref. Photo 1&2 (see file attached)). This paper documents and discusses the possible pitfalls and suggestions to manoeuver through cultural, professional and ethical barriers when dealing with interdisciplinary collaboration. This paper would therefore like to describe the motivation, process, development and the final outcome as well as some exemplary anecdotes of the ‘Craft collaboration toolkit’.