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Marion Lean

PhD Work

Engaging Materiality in Design Research

How can textile thinking approaches be applied to explore the affective and sensory dimensions of data ?

In this practice based research the communicative dimension of materiality is engaged as a tool to explore ways to reveal the affective and sensorial impacts of our engagements with data. This study contributes to literature on design research methodologies and modalities which enable understanding, insight and inspiration for post digital design. Materially grounded learnings and approaches from Textile Design are drawn upon to address areas concerned with the technologically abstracted, digitally represented, immaterial but impactful everyday engagements with information.


Following a review of textile design led research reaching a range of fields and development of textiles- technology collaboration this thesis reports on the process of applying the textile lens within the area of data experience.  For the author, a textiles lens implicitly leads to materiality as a tool for design research, while ‘Designing the affective material palette’ emerged as a program for others to engage with materiality and data through design. Through physical material engagement, the ubiquitous, easily identifiable and familiar nature of textiles were implemented as metaphor and probe to initiate dialogue on the ever present and pervasive nature of continually collected and shared data.  


In the generation, collection, analysis and experiencing alternative forms of data, research through design here is an experiment exploring what happens when data meets materiality.

The methodology positions textile design as both lens and toolbox to engage materiality in design research to understand potential consequences of new technology and data driven experience. Physical outcomes and experiences are designed to shed light on themes from digital and data generation and collection environments. Engaging with diverse groups through workshop, ethnography and exhibition it is not only representation of data which is explored but also experiences, attitudes and encounters and the ways we can collect, share and impact by engaging materiality in design research.  

The findings present a fresh perspective and new references for the position of textile thinking as a form of design research is introduced as initiating a paradigm shift to explore and accept new ways of knowing and new ways to make design theory.


  • PhD


    School of Design


    Textiles, 2016–2019

  • Engaging Materiality in Design Research

    Marion’s practice based PhD explores methods for implementing material practices as research tools in the area of emerging technology and data experience. Themes including the feeling of being ‘reduced to numbers’ by physical activity trackers and their data; generating new approaches to discuss our relationships with immaterial concepts such as AI and sustainability; and the personal and emotional experiences of fibre internet are addressed as information experience is reappropriated as a physical material for design. 

    The research approach is a methodology for implementing practical material engagement in experiential research encounters including workshops, public exhibition and ethnographic study. The findings present new spaces for inquiry and new references for design research which employs material approaches and methods including prototyping and object creation, physical experience and sensory engagement and relationship building. Outcomes are working methods which contribute to the positioning of textile thinking as a means of knowledge production in design research.

    During the PhD Marion who is part of the London Doctoral Design Consortium has collaborated and engaged with a wide range of communities including Haringey Rhinos ladies rugby team, Intelligent Textiles company Footfalls and Heartbeats and most recently undertook a study inside the analyst team Building Digital, part of the department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in central government. Her research interests more broadly are health and well being, technology innovation and experience and the role of design in tech ethics as well as actual textiles, physical objects and real people- “things you can actually touch and believe!”

    Before RCA Marion worked in public engagement with the Medical Research Council and British Council and in Research and Development with Imperial College department of neurotechnology and tech start-up Little Riot in London having completed her Masters in Critical Design from Goldsmiths in 2012 and Textile Design from Dundee in 2011.

  • Degrees

  • MA Design Critical Practice, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2012; BDes Hons Textile Design, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee, 2011
  • Exhibitions

  • On Drawing, Lage Egal, Berlin June 2017, Design Research Evolution, London 2018, FTC Valuing Practice, Bolton, 2019
  • Awards

  • UK Research and Innovation Policy Internship, BDUK Fibre Programmes (2019),Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council ‘Get a Move On’ Project grants (2018),Kyoto Institute of Technology Textiles Scholarship (2017), LDoc PhD Award (2017)
  • Conferences

  • Evolution in Design Research, Exhibition at London Design Festival, Hockney Gallery, RCA, 2018 9th International UBI Summer School, Centre for Ubiquitous Computing, University of Oulu (2018) Design Research Society Conference, delivered ‘workshop
  • Publications

  • Biomimicry for Designers, Kapsali V, 2015, Thames & Hudson, Designing the Affective Material Palette. Using materials to explore the experience of systems and technologies designed to aid behaviour change, The Design Journal , Volume 22 2019