Throughout the history of design teaching in Higher Education, there has been an assumption that students need to physically encounter objects to fully understand and appreciate them.
However, in this digital age, the physical encounter has been superseded by the myriad detailed images and information that is readily available on-line and in print.
This concern drew together a museum curator and a 3D Design educator. One was concerned that the digital experience lacked the visceral and emotional experience of engaging with physical objects, and highlighted a difficulty of facilitating access to meaningful, contemporary, objects. The other, whose largely historic collections were increasingly considered “irrelevant” to contemporary design practice, understood the value of materiality as fundamental to a museum’s existence, and its role in teaching and research.
The result was the establishment in 2013 of the “Material & Process Innovation Collection”, a museum quality collection, comprised of objects that are cutting-edge in terms of their material and process-led approaches to making, manufacture and distribution. The collection is driven not only by curatorial concerns, but by teaching and research, challenging the conservatism of museum collecting by taking innovative objects of untested materials and unknown makers, and hands the responsibility of collections development to non-curators.
The research presents an analysis and reflection on bringing the physical back into the classroom, the value of this experience within teaching, learning and research, and reveals if there is merit in the assumption that sensory engagement with physical objects is of greater value than the digital experience.