Textualising visual stimulus: A visual methodology to encourage innovation in fashion design education



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • mood board, textualising visual stimulus, visual methodology, visual literacy


Fashion design and its pedagogy is fundamentally centred around visual representation. A core conceptual component of the fashion industry and design education is mood boards, concept boards or trend boards, which purpose is to communicate design direction or intent and to provide a starting point for the design process. Content for these boards relies predominantly on visual data; due to the internet and social media, students and designers have unlimited access to visual stimulus. Reflecting on personal design constraints and teaching experiences in fashion design at a leading South African design education institution, it became clear that the influx of visual data, both through the use of these boards and freely available images on social media, affects original design thinking. The overwhelming quantity of visual stimulus tends to encourage reproduction rather than fuel innovative design. This often occurs sub-consciously as students are immersed in the content, without critically distilling what is seen. Furthermore, it fosters a sense of inferiority among students, as they often cannot reproduce the same quality of design as seen online.

To address this issue, an alternative method of using these boards and/or visual stimulus is proposed. Traditionally, fashion design education requires students to develop designs directly from these boards. The proposed method requires an intermediate step, where the visual data is analysed based on design elements and principles and converted to textual descriptors that become the criteria for designing. This textualisation of images, aims to provoke design ideas, removed from the initial visual stimulus. This proposed method does not only aim to increase innovative design practice, but simultaneously develop critical engagement with visual data and enhance visual literacy. As students become more skilled in translating, interpreting, analysing, and understanding visual stimulus, this method could become intrinsic to their design practice and lead to more innovation, originality and individualised/personalised designer signatures that avoid the trap of reproduction and imitation.

The accessibility of influential and inspirational images should be celebrated, especially considering the rate at which technological advancements are being developed, however how designers and students utilise these images needs consideration. By introducing a simple method within the way students use visual data, critical thinking can be developed, visual literacy improved, and innovative design encouraged.


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