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  • Writer's pictureSiiri

Design Studies – Third Year, First Period: Research And Development Of Design


This is the first period of the third year of my studies in footwear design and it has been a rather bussy one compared to the first two years. Or that is how it feels at least. During this period every course was linked to the customer project we were doing in our profile studies which, in my case, was related to outdoorsy, functional footwear.

Like the title of this period suggests research and development of design were in the core of every course whether it delt with design thinking, project management, history of vocational field or the big customer project. Moreover, for me and my classmates co-design was a huge new area of learning during the footwear profile's customer project along with everything new that has to be taken into consideration when design for a customer.


Design Thinking

In this course our task was to write a diary about phenomenons in design which includes for example common principles of designing and tools of design. It was also important to realize and discuss the different ways design is linked to the world and other professions such as art, semiotics or aesthetics from which design draws theories, inspiration and insight. Because design is a profession in so called "cultural sector" and because its nature is to be curious about the world around us and its phenomenons it is typical that a designer needs to be aware of theories outside the profession's "bounds".

The way I see it, you have to know little bit about art, philosophy, history, psychology, religions, aesthetics, politics, science etc. because you need background for your designs. Everything is about something therefore being aware of the net of meanings and nuances is invaluable for your design work.


What is Desing Thinking?

Design thinking is a process which designers and non-designers can use to create and develop products, services and businesses etc. Essentially, desing thinking is iterative, user focused method where problems of the users are in the center. The ultimate task is not only to design what the users want but what they need, as well as, what they don't know yet wanting. When something new and innovational is borne out of the process you have succeeded in design thinking.

Down below there are two different models of design thinking process: the fife-step -model and the double diamond -model.


User Research

User research is an important part of design thinking process. It is where you really learn about the end user of your products or service: what they want and need but also who they are. Gaining a holistic view of your users gives you a power to design better products that correspond with the users dreams, attitudes, lifestyles etc. or helps them to cope better with their fears, uncertainties or illnesses. This means you have to be able to see from the user's perspective, imagine their lifes below the surface and relate to their problems. There are numerous ways to collect data from the users but not all research methods serve your specific porpuse. Which is why you should choose the research method carefully by considering what type of information you need the most in your design process.

In addition and as a part of user research designers often create user profiles or personas to help themselves and their costumers to see the end users clearer. A user persona is basically a mini biography of an imagined user which includes quantitative informantion such as their age or income level but also describes for example what are their goals, dreams, hobbies, insicurities and so on. Usually user personas also include a short story about the user's day or a moment in life that is linked to the design problem. Moreover, user personas are never random but are based on real research of the users. However, what is also good to keep in mind is that user personas are generalizations and normally simplify groups of people to fit them into the frames of the design problem.



Semiotics is a philosophical theory which studies and analyzes signs and sign-systems, their meanings, meaningfulness and how those meanings are formed. The theory is interested in how signs appear and devolop in language, society and culture. At first semiotic analysis was used only in the analysis of language but later its methods were also applied to visual porpuses. Down below you can find a picture which aims to simplyfie what semiotics is about.

Semiotic analysis or visual analysis can be a great tool for designers when they need to understand visual objects or phenomenons better. Essentially, visual analysis sheds light to the meanings, conceptions, prejudice and appearances etc. of visual objects and through that gives an understanding on what people think, feel and see when they face these visual signs. For example, visual analysis can be done on advertisement campaings, products or brands.



Aesthetics is another philosophical branch which deals with questions of beauty, taste, harmony and other aesthetic phenomenons that are linked to sensory experiences. Furthermore, aesthetics is also a part of a philosophy of art and therefore discusses aesthetic experiences provoked through artistic expression. Over all, aesthetics tries to understand and study the essence of beauty, how beauty is experienced, why beauty is meaningful and how beauty's interpretations varies.

But why aesthetics is a useful tool for designers? That is because design and designing is highly visual and often linked to art whether art has been the inspiration or a collaborator in design. Moreover, aesthetic phenomenons in design can be very intentionally used which is when a deeper pondering on these visual elements is needed. It is important to be able to connect visual experiences to knowledge that otherwise is passed on as individual taste. Understanding the range of feelings and sensations a visual element can bring to your design is key because being able to justify and explain your choices brings a sense of professionalism as well as credibility to your work.


Inspiration and appropriation

It is very typical for design to draw inspiration from the existing visual world around us. The world of art, cultures and phenomenons in societies has always fascinated desiners from Yves Saint Laurent's 1965 Mondrian dress to the fresh SS22 collection just presented at fashion week where artistic collaborations and folk tales were among the range of inspiration in the world's top fashion houses. Usually, inspiration seeked out from art and culture is very fruitful, exciting and creates interesting conversation around collections and products, but other times, when used in a wrong way, seemingly harmful utilizing of inspiration towards a cultural phenomenon can also be hurtful, disrespectful and even regarded as coping. Therefore, the question remains for designers: what can be used as an inspiration. How it can be used and on what conditions? Where to draw the line between inspiration and appropriation?

Shortly, appropriation or cultural appropriation occures when somebody from dominant or mainstream culture uses knowingly or unknowingly exsisting visual elements, ideas or phenomenons from subcultures, marginalized cultures or oppressed cultures for their own porpuses without educating nor concerning themselves with the customs or meaning of that visual element in its own cultural setting. Clearly, this is a very unsustainable way of creating design since you are not only financially gaining from a marginalized culture's cultural heritage but also might end up streghteing rasistic views of the cultural group as well as offending something which is holy to them.

Frankly, it is quite remarkable how design and fashion has been shamlessly ignoring the topic of appropriation for decades. According to an online article by Molly Long (Cultural Appropriation: can designers ever responsibly "borrow" from other cultures. 2020. Design Week UK) since the 1960s and 70s the topic of appropriation has been a part of cultural studies in academic circles but was not however included in design studies until the recent years: "Those in cultural studies, philosophy and sociology can explain the cultural processes and influences behind a designer’s work, but designers themselves are often not very aware of that", writes Long.

What's more, it is neither possible nor realistic to expect that design will stop using art and cultures as sources of inspiration (and it shouldn't have to) since itself belongs under the latter. However, what can be expected is thorough research into topics, co-design methods with artists and people representing the culture as well as an attitude of giving back: you cannot take from someone elses culture if you are not prepared to give something back.

In addition, the conversation of cultural appropriation includes for example the following topics which I will not go into detail it this post:

1. No culture is "pure" but a mixture of influencess and customs which have formed and developed into a culture we know today and which continues to develop under new influences from cultures around it. So, is it really ethically correct to ban from borrowing and by doing so prevent new cultures from emerging?

2. If a person from a dominant culture cannot borrow from other cultures what gives a right to a person from a marginalized culture then to do so? Do they have the right? Does anyone have it? Or in fact, do we all have the right?

3. Does cultural appropriation put too much emphasis on terms "we/ours" and "they/theirs"? Is the concept of cultural appropriation sometimes too separating between cultures?

4. Appreciation vs appropriation?


Project Management

Project management was a course about what it takes to make a project work, what roles people have in projects and what different working stages there are within a project. Basically, as the course title suggests, it is all about how to manage projects succesfully.

During the course we had bigger assignments along with smaller tasks. Project contract was one of the smaller assigments where we got familiar with the contents of contracts and after that sketched out our own contract forms.

One of the bigger assigments was about designer's salary. Shortly, we had to acquire informantion about how much designers earn and then carve out our own monthly or hourly salary wish and reflect it against our personal skill sets, time management and possible expenses in a project etc.


History Of The Vocational Field – History of Riding Boots

This course delt with the history of our vocational field which in my case focused on the history of footwear. Because our main project this period was about more outdoorsy shoes and high performance footwear rather than fashion our teacher wanted us to choose a topic for our essays within that area of footwear industry. Therefore, my choice for the essay was riding boots, even thought, they are not the world's most high performance footwear. Quite frankly, I just happen to adore the look of riding boots and the traditional, english equestrian style of dressing up, so I thought I would try my luck on suggesting the topic.

. . .

The history of riding boots is closely tied with military history as well as the over all history of boots for a few reasons. Firstly, boots have been the most practical choise of footwear on battle fields because they protect the feet not only in the muddy conditions but also while on horseback. Secondly, for the most part of history riding was the quickest and easiest way to get around and that is why riding boots or boots which were used while riding have also been part of the civilian dress code for centuries.

However, it was not until the 17th century when the distinction between riding boots and boots were made clearer. Namenly, as the first military uniforms made appearances boots designed for riding and military conditions were also introduced. There began the evolution of riding boots from jackboots and hessian boots to Wellington boots and finally landing on the classic models we see today: dress boot, field boot and hunting boot.

These classic riding boots are not only used for riding. Nowadays they are considered a fashionable wardrobe stable which have been worn the likes of Kate Middleton and reproduced by the finest fashion houses such as Hermes and Gucci. What's more, riding boots can be seen as a part of classic English or equestrian inspired style giving the boots a heritage identity. Furthermore, there are hightech versions to be found in today's riding boot market with functional insoles and soles as well as other properties.


Design Thinking In Collaboration Project – Costumer Project

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you much about this project since all was done under strick secrecy but, basically, our class designed some footwear for a brand using co-design methods and design thinking process.

Research, user research, ideas, sketching and finalizing the collection were the core steps in the first part of our customer project. All the steps were mostly done in teams of three and each designed their own three piece collection for the customer.

. . .

Co-design is a way of designing where the whole design team is involved in the process of creating design ideas. This means that nobody on their own owns the final design since everyone has influenced the outcome. For example, in our customer project there were three rounds of sketching and after every round each would choose somebody elses idea which they would further develop. Therefore, after three rounds no design idea had one designer but rather they were a mixture of ideas from three different people.

Personally, I really liked the co-design method because it lifted a lot of pressure off from individual's shoulders and gave space for conversations which otherwise wouldn't happen when designing by yourself. What's more, co-design helped our team to broaden our views on the design topic as well as create an interesting combination of ideas which complemented each other. Ultimately, co-design method created a frame for team work which was dependent on every team member and throught that streghtent our shared goals and desire to succeed together. Over all, it was truly a positive experience which I am excited to continue in next period. There is just something wonderful about bringing three brilliant minds together and sharing the outcome what ever it may be.


Have you ever used design thinking?

Would you ever try design thinking process or co-design method in your own projects?

What are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?

Are you familiar with any of the philosophical theories design makes use of?


Thank you so much for reading!




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