Thresholds Concepts

Those regular readers of this blog may know from my first scintillating post that I am a Lecturer who teaches across a wide number of courses across the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion. I am offering you two examples of what I deem to be threshold concepts across my teaching practice (Ambassador you are spoiling us, I imagine the cry.)

Across the various foundation degrees that are within the school there is a brief that is regularly used in various guises and I suspect has been knocking around for quite some years. In which the students are given a name of a Fashion Designer who shows at one of the various fashion weeks (London, Paris, Milan and New York) and asks them to design what they would imagine a collaboration between there given designer and a high street retailer.

The fashion media perhaps warps the perceptions of what Fashion Designers do in the minds aspiring young and in there first year many of them imagine that they will ultimately be designing collections that are only limited by there own imaginations which will then be retailed. This brief introduces them to important threshold concepts the idea of diffusion.

We are bombarded with press coverage about fashion houses collaborating with the high street, this resulting in overnight queues like those seen for the Martin Margiela and H&M collaboration this week. The students are already aware of this and understand the motives. In the research phase we ask the student to unpick the idea further, by comparing the runway collection of the high priced designers and compare how these same collection translate into the various boutiques and high-end department stores that stock them directly.

By asking them to do this we are hoping that they will make the discovery that diffusion happens at every market level. The collections shown on the runway and those available for retail do not always correlate. Many of the pieces are only intended for the shows or loan to fashion magazines to garner press coverage and subsequently raise the brand profile. As they could never be made as the costing would be too high. The collections are often channeled into more commercial pieces and in many instances the collections will have been almost totally redesigned for retail consumption. So when designers are accused of selling out by working with huge high street chains they are not doing anything that is not deeply entrenched within there own labels already.

It is important to introduce this concept at an early stage so they can begin to consider how they may structure their collections outside on the cocoon of education.  Often when students understand this concept they let it empower there future work making more sophisticated and considered collections, understanding both the importance of both brand creation and commercial viability.

This example hopefully fulfils the criteria of a threshold concept as it

Troublesome as it can shatter preconceptions, and anchors Fashion in the design idiom and pulls it away from fine art sensibilities, what may look like artistic statements are often marketing exercises.

Iterative as it exposes the previously potentially hidden mechanics of the fashion industry.

Transformative once understood, its potential effects upon student learning as they understand their role as designers.


I my second example draws upon my earlier teaching career when I was asked to cover a term teaching the students how to do fashion specification drawings in Adobe Illustrator.

Most students are familiar with how to use the program Adobe Photoshop as it use has crept far beyond the realms of photography. When asked to create a spec or line drawing of a garment the usual first port of call would be to open up this program select the brush tool and use the cursor to draw on screen in the same way that you would with a pencil on paper. It can be quite hard to get clean smooth line or curve with the use of this tool also Photoshop is developed for bitmap editing so drawings will appear to pixelate if scaled up much beyond the initially defined proportions.

I had to introduce them to using Illustrator, Photoshop’s sister program which output is vector based. There is a conceptual leap from one program to the other, Photoshop is on the surface more intuitive as it apes mark making on the page where as with illustrator you define a start and end point and pull the adjoining line into a Bézier curve, if a curve is desired (The name is taken the French engineer Pierre Bézier, who in 1962 used the mathematical algorithm to design automobile bodies) These curves can be scaled infinitely and be edited with ease. In essence you are stated where you are starting then stating where you to end and then you define the trajectory of line between.

Using this one tool in Illustrator is the key to unlocking the use of the whole program and those who invest the time reap the rewards. Many students are turned off straight away as it is not how they used to drawing it is troublesome knowledge.

I must confess that throughout my studies I was one such student, I went to one lesion got very frustrated as I had always had a natural ability to draw and using this seemed to hinder that, so I never returned. Professionally I had always managed to find a way to mask this shortcoming. It was not until I was asked to spend a term teaching the students how to use it (as I was understood to be an expert in the area after a fraudulent boast on my C.V) that I had the motivation to learn it.

When I did get to grips with it,  every facet of my practise was enriched.

For me this was Troublesome as it challenged my former approach

Transformative as it forever changed my practise

Irreversible as it unlikely to be forgotten

Integrative as it uncovered the relationship between vector and rasterized graphics that is inhertent to all print and digital design.