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Facilitating Inspiration: Design of the Textiles Archive Design Application (TADA)

By Dan Spencer, Chris Willis, David Tredwell, Jessica White, Kayla Briska / December 2020

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A key source of learning and inspiration for textile designers is historic textiles. Rich archives of textile patterns, techniques, and styles provide theoretical grounding in textile pattern design concepts as well as endless ideas to support the application of these concepts to textile design practice [1, 2].

In the textile design program at NC State University, students do not have a course in historic textile design and have a limited introduction to textile patterns, techniques, and styles from a historical perspective. To remedy this, previous introductory textile design courses used the MONA database. Accessed via a computer workstation, MONA held hundreds of historical patterns and motifs from various time periods, providing a key resource for building students’ understanding of historical perspectives and a platform to explore designs and foster design inspiration. However, as a system developed but never updated, the MONA database became obsolete in 2013. This article is a case study of a collaborative project undertaken to develop a web-based application (Textiles Archive Design Application; TADA) designed to provide both a source for inspiration and a foundation for theoretical and conceptual knowledge, in textile pattern design among undergraduate students taking their first textile design course.


TADA was designed for a six-credit-hour entry-level studio-based course, which aims to promote the iterative design process for students early in their academic career by applying industry textile design and visualization software to conception, design, development, and presentation of creative textiles and textile products.

The main design goals for the TADA application were to:

  1. Create a new database to facilitate the design process by giving students more information on the history and connections between patterns.
  2. Design a system and maintenance plan to ensure the tool’s longevity.
  3. Modify/create database-connected course activities. 

Application design and development followed the ADDIE instructional design model that supports five iterative phases (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) [3].

Understanding our audience. During the analysis phase, we identified both value propositions (e.g., “How is this tool valuable to users?”) and criteria for success (“How will we know if this tool is successful?”) to underpin how the app would be designed. We approached their creation from the perspective of the student, instructor, and professional designer (see Table 1). This approach was critical for app design as it not only allowed us to define the potential overlap between users (students) and facilitators (instructors) but also provided insight into potential future users (professional designers). Understanding these perspectives also spurred initial discussions related to creating an app that has longevity (Goal no. 2) and can be readily applied in the textile design classroom (Goal no. 3).

Table 1. Value propositions created during app development.

[click to enlarge]

Understanding design challenges. A key component of the design phase was anticipating challenges we might face when updating and developing the application. Using the foundation built during project analysis, we addressed three main challenges: (1) the number of images in the collections, (2) varying display formats, and (3) accessibility. The foremost challenge was to compile a large volume of images, each with their own details and tags, into a compact and easily understood application. As the goal was to be able to search the database using multiple filters while showing connections between patterns, the material had to be explored rapidly and without lagging. The second anticipated challenge involved making TADA accessible on mobile devices. This is difficult, as smartphones have their own constraints such as memory, network, and interface real estate. Moreover, we were concerned with how to make elements such as navigational and informational components easier to find and read while maintaining detail-rich images. Finally, TADA users with visual impairments posed a challenge as options for users with impairments are limited to what the details and tags convey.

Developing a list of anticipated challenges was not only beneficial to allocating resources and time moving into the development phase; it also strengthened our design process by creating a strategic path to follow when researching large-scale image presentation.

Overcoming development and implementation obstacles. A major unforeseen challenge was a significant delay in being able to use the images originally stored in the MONA database, as we did not have access to any images until four months into the year-long project. To gain access, the project team had to investigate the ownership of the images, and delays in our ability to confirm which images could be used led to trouble envisioning, brainstorming, and prioritizing features/functions. This also had a cumulative effect on designing class activities meant to rely heavily on the app itself. However, engaging in ongoing meetings and communication lets us collaboratively pool resources by focusing on research, rapid prototyping, and feedback cycles to generate discussion and targets for further development. We also used the delay to plan ahead, creating wireframes to consolidate early ideas, chart out further development, and organize early testing with students to gauge reactions, catch early problems, and enable a smoother transition into the instructional design phase of the project.

The design team’s dynamic, open, and collaborative nature allowed us to overcome both expected and unexpected challenges. Solving these challenges required an interdisciplinary approach, and we benefited from a small team with strong project leadership. Expectations were established for sharing ideas, information flow was steady and widely shared, and the workload was distributed to increase design process efficiency. This culture allowed team members to focus on the larger project goals and avoid information/expertise siloing that could have impaired the quality of design solutions.


The TADA web-based application is publicly available and contains 3,000 images from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) with styles ranging from 1800 to 1980, as well as 400 images from DuFlon [4] ranging from 1950 to 1960 for a combined database of 3,400 images. Once logged in, students have unlimited access to the application, which lays out all database patterns for users to see (see Figure 1). Students can then use filters to sort images by family, technique, style/period, region, scale, layout, ground effect, color scheme, design type (print, woven, knit), motif, date, and/or fabric type.

Figure 1. Filtering in the new TADA application.

[click to enlarge]

Users can apply filters inclusively or exclusively, with images organized based on their level of fit with the selected filters (e.g., with three filters, images that match all three show up first, then those that match only two, etc.). Alternatively, students can click on a single pattern type that they are interested in and the database will give pattern-specific information such as the family, technique, scale, layout, and so on (see Figure 2). If students need further clarification on specific pattern design/textile terms they can also access a built-in glossary. The TADA database allows users to download pattern images as well as start a collection for future use in course activities and projects.

The TADA application uses a responsive design and will adapt to a variety of screen sizes and dimensions. However, we have observed some minor bugs when individuals use mobile devices and are currently working to update CSS and page scale modes for better mobile display. Further, we are also working on a number of incremental changes to make the application fully accessible to all students, including enabling accessibility mode and adding keyboard navigation for the PIXI grid display, as well as adding tab indices and role attributes for UI elements. In addition, assignments that use the TADA application incorporate additional accessibility measures, including alt image tags, screen reader capabilities, and alternative activities for students to complete depending on their skill level and progress in the course. For long-term sustainability, the Creative and Technology Services Department within the College of Textiles has taken over the general maintenance of the application.

Figure 2. Pattern-specific information in the new TADA application.

[click to enlarge]

TADA Use and Feedback

TADA in the classroom. At the beginning of the course, an in-class scavenger hunt activity familiarized students with the layout, background, and functionality of the app. Students were asked to note how many images the database contains; toggle between more or fewer images on the home screen; create, save, and view a collection of images; search and add/remove filters; and obtain more information about an image and access its color wheel (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Two patterns with associated hue color wheels (cropped screenshots).

[click to enlarge]

Several course activities also required or allowed students to utilize the TADA app in the development of color palettes, texture-mapping analyses, and as inspiration for creating a collection of printed designs. Alongside these projects, the TADA app was available as a vast resource of information and inspiration across the semester.

Student experience with TADA. Though this article focuses on our design process and overcoming obstacles in creating the TADA app, preliminary data provides evidence for its efficacy as an applied tool. Students used the app multiple times when encouraged during assignment windows, and data indicated a significant positive correlation between time spent in the app and students’ grades. Via surveys, students reported using the app to generate ideas at the beginning of the design process, for design exploration, for focused design research, and when searching for specific examples later in the design process.

Alongside this, surveys encouraged students to share their perceptions and experiences using the TADA app, which helped illustrate our progress toward creating an app that gives students more information on the history and connections between patterns to facilitate their design process (Goal no. 1), and our level of success in modifying and creating database-connected activities for the course (Goal no. 3). Overall, students had positive perceptions of the new app. Most students (84 percent) agreed the display and organization of patterns helped expose them to a vast range of design ideas, and 63 percent agreed that seeing terminology and definitions in the app helped facilitate their curiosity and made them explore and seek examples of the terms. Most students (79 percent) also found the filters useful in exploring and searching the collection of patterns, and 68 percent agreed the app structure helped them organize their design thinking during class activities and assignments. Finally, students praised the app’s ability to help them narrow their research, build knowledge, and organize their ideas, but requested additional designs, improvements to the general layout or use of filters, and more information on each pattern’s characteristics.

Key takeaways

  • Understand your audience. Identify value propositions and criteria for success to underpin design, development, and integration into course assignments. Ask “How is this tool valuable to users?” and “How will we know if this tool is successful?”
  • Understand your (design) challenges. Anticipate challenges you might face by understanding your stakeholders, users, and goals. This helps create a strategic path to follow as well as guidelines for allocating resources and time.
  • Support a dynamic, open, and collaborative team culture. Encourage ongoing communication and resource pooling to overcome both expected and unexpected challenges. An interdisciplinary approach benefits from strong project leadership.


This project placed a shared resource in the hands of textile design students and faculty to encourage an appreciation of historic perspectives and support students’ coursework throughout the curriculum. In identifying value propositions and criteria for success to underpin the app’s design, anticipating challenges to update and develop the new application, and fostering an open and collaborative team dynamic we overcame both expected challenges and unexpected challenges. Data from its initial implementation indicate students report positive perceptions and experiences when using the app; using TADA helped students feel more prepared for assignments; and TADA is an engaging, easy to learn/use tool to provide context for students’ design projects. Some caution is warranted in interpreting these results due to their limited nature; however, the results were sufficient to encourage textile design faculty to begin expanding its availability to more textile design students and courses. The project team is also looking to expand the TADA app’s database of available patterns, such as the Harriss Collection that is fully digitized and owned by the university [5]. 


We thank Dr. Traci Lamar, Andy Click, and Uikyung Jung in NC State’s College of Textiles, and Merranie Zellweger, DELTA, for their roles in developing and successfully integrating the TADA application into the textile design classroom. 


[1] Akiwowo, K., Dennis, L., Weaver, G., and Bingham, G. The living archive: facilitating textile design research at undergraduate level through collaboration, co-creation and student engagement. Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice 7, 2 (2019), 155-193. DOI: 10.1080/20511787.2019.1593297

[2] Britt, H., Stephen-Cran, J., and Shaw, A. 2014. Past, present and future: transformational approaches to utilizing archives for research, learning and teaching. In Shapeshifting: A Conference on Transformative Paradigms of Fashion and Textile Design, April 14-16, 2014, Auckland, New Zealand. Textile and Design Lab and Colab, Auckland University of Technology.

[3] Molenda, M. ADDIE Model. In Ann Kovalchick and Kara Dawson (Eds.), Education and Technology: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1: A-I. ABC-CLIO, Inc, Santa Barbara, 2003.

[4] Odland. J. C. 70 plus 30 Years of Mayan culture. Revue Magazine. April 1, 2010.

[5] NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center. Undated. The William H. Harriss, '95 Collection of Modern Fabrics (Undated Report). NC State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center.

About the Authors

Dan Spencer is a postdoctoral research scholar in the Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications department at NC State University. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from NC State and his B.Sc./M.Sc. degrees in Psychology from Bangor University, Wales. His research interests center around the design and evaluation of pedagogical interventions in higher education. In particular, his focus has been on improving self-regulation and motivation, as well as the use of assessment data to increase student learning outcomes and perceptions. 

Chris Willis, DELTA’s Assistant Director, Planning and Assessment, manages the evaluation and assessment of course redesign and educational technology projects, focusing on technology integration, pedagogy, and teaching best practices to support student success and engagement. He leads data collection, analysis, and reporting, and provides training, guidance, and support for the effective integration and use of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods for evaluating and assessing DE and blended course redesigns. Willis holds master’s degrees in survey research, education, and public administration, and is a Ph.D. student in NC State’s Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development program.

David Tredwell works with the New Media team at DELTA, providing perspective on interactive and user experiences, creating user interfaces, and programming learning objects for online education. He graduated from NC State in 2007 with a B.S. in computer science and a passion for game design and 3-D modeling. He began working immediately at DELTA as a contracted employee and earned a full-time position in 2009. While his passion lies in combining design and programming, Tredwell has also been known to help with graphic design, video production, and storyboarding.

Jessica White is a lead instructional designer at NC State University working with both Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) and the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences (FBNS). She provides instructional design and project management knowledge to provide solutions to instructional challenges while working with faculty members to design, develop, and evaluate online, blended, and face-to-face courses. White has experience developing courses, teaching adult learners, and designing training programs. She also serves as a faculty member within the Training & Development program at NC State. Jessica holds an Ed.S. in instructional design and technology and a Ph.D. in educational leadership.

Kayla Briska was an Education Specialist that provided evaluation planning, academic research, data analysis, and report writing support to DELTA’s Planning and Assessment team. Upon her graduation from NC State University with a Masters in Statistics, she has since taken a position at Syenous Health as a Statistical Programmer to

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