The “Social Network” of an Article Research is Social, Part 1

This post is the first in a series I’m calling Research is Social, in which I hope to explore the communal and interpersonal aspects of information discovery and dissemination. I am especially interested in areas where technology and traditional notions of research converge either in support of a social understanding of information or as a deterrent to it. 

Brains and How to Get Them - Book Illustration

Image from the book “Brains and How to Get Them” by Larson (1913)

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Yale doctoral student, Matthew Fischer, indicates that that the very act of searching the internet gives people an inflated sense of their own knowledge. In fact, his study found that even when his research subjects saw the same information on the exact same website, the members of the cohort who were asked to search for it rated their own knowledge higher than those who were passively shown it.

What makes this study particularly interesting to me is that search, more than ever before, is controlled by predictive analytics that bring results based on our profiles and search histories. In other words, all the while that we are feeling increasingly knowledgeable, our search results are increasingly restricted by our own habits, interests, and vocabularies. This could be a problem.

As a professional who regularly assists people with information inquiries, I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told by inexperienced researchers that the information they found on a topic “came from Google” – as if their search was the ultimate origin of the information. Of course, they don’t mean this or even think it. However, when pressed they can rarely remember the actual sites that they visited online. Search, at least for the casual researcher, has effectively divorced information from the notion of source or authority. This study would imply that in some ways, the sense authority has indeed been transferred, through search alone, from the knowledge producer to the knowledge seeker.

It is no wonder that, even among the more advanced undergraduates with whom I work, information gathering is often done in a very piecemeal way. Each article, website or book that they find via search is perceived as an isolated result of their expressed search criteria. The view is not holistic. Rarely do the researchers consider the “life” of the information item before it was discovered by them, and this often prevents them from finding better information and attaining a deeper, contextualized understanding of the topic they are pursuing.

it27snotwhatyouknow2c0ait27swhoyouknow-defaultOne way that I have tried to combat this patchwork approach is to introduce students to the idea of searching for “who” as well as for “what” – as in who are the experts, thought leaders and stakeholders in their area of research? This is not always an easy task if someone is researching a topic that is new to them. A good starting place for discovering the “who” of a topic is often a single, good article, because if you can find one good article then you can generally find many other leads.

The following is a library workshop activity that I have done with a number of upper-level product development classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. By the time the students come to the library workshop, they generally have already found an article, blog post or news story that has inspired them to create a product for a particular emerging or micro-niche market. Past topics have included gender-neutral parenting, gaming GenX moms, and multi-generational households. It’s the perfect situation for introducing who-searching. (I have also successfully used this activity in English classes where student have been allowed to choose their own topic for a research paper.) 

Our starting place is the articles that inspired them, but I often bring my own for demonstration purposes. I tell them to go through their articles with a marker or pencil and highlight every person quoted, institution referenced and publication or study mentioned. Ideally, we do this during the first part of the workshop. If not, then I stick to demonstrating the process with an article projected from the web onto the classroom smartboard. Highlighting on the screen can be done using Diigo’s Bookmarklet tools. Here’s an example using an article saved to Diigo from the NY Times about consumer sentiment toward sweat shops – Some Retailers Say More About Their Clothing’s Origins tools (click to see highlighted article).

The next step is to map out the “social network” of the article. This is easily done with pen and paper, but for on-screen demonstration there are several concept mapping tools that work well. I like to use because it is easy for students to read from the back row of a classroom. Student response to this activity is overwhelmingly positive, because it gives them an alternative to keyword searching.


Click to Enlarge

In library instruction circles concept mapping is already a widely championed practice. It is often recommended as a brainstorming tool for building search vocabulary at the very beginning of the research process. My angle is to introduce it in the context of getting researchers to think beyond descriptive vocabulary and start thinking about authors, expertise and the network of knowledge producers. This activity also creates a nice segue way into discussing scholarly literature, which has a long-standing tradition of “social networking” through the use of footnotes, bibliographies, citation indexes and online academic networks


Textile Toolbox – Sustainable Fashion Guidance from MISTRA

The Textile Toolbox is a web platform, created by TED for  MISTRA Future Fashion, which explores the nexus between sustainability and profitability in the fashion industry.This open website is a global collaborative effort that draws on the expertise of researchers from an array of fashion schools, and it acts as a platform for designers, professionals and students to explore sustainable design, manufacturing, and consumption solutions.

Repair it yourself shoes

Repair it yourself shoes

To understand the philosophical framework underlying the content housed on the site, click first on the “Approach” navigation link. Here you will find a description of the TED Ten, which are ten design strategies to inspire and drive sustainable innovation. The “Exhibits” section shows these principles in action with links to research and writings, and under “Resources” there is a growing list of well-thought-out lesson plans for all educational levels. The “Writing and Research” link takes you to the Textile Toolbox blog, which consists articles with bibliographies, as well as announcements. One recent announcement  of note is an open call to designers to submit sustainable design projects for the Textile Toolbox gallery that follow the the TED Ten.

I can see this wonderful site being used as as a substitution for for a traditional textbook in a class focused on sustainability. The videos, writings, lesson plans and leads to further research make it a rich resource for students, faculty and librarians a like. This is an excellent resource to add to your library’s research guides or pathfinders.

This post originally appeared in the Fashion, Costume and Textile Librarians blog on January 9, 2015.  

Fashion Industry Research on a Shoestring

Students often ask me if they will continue to have access to our Library’s wonderful resources after they graduate.  The answer, right now, is one of those annoying “yes, but” answers.  Alumni of FIT will always have access to the Library itself, and there is a wide array of print and online subscription resources they can have access to when they visit. However, most of our higher-end, industry-level databases – market research and fashion forecasting services – are off limits.

It was partially with this conundrum in in mind that I wrote the following article for the Fashion, Textile and Costume Librarians blog – Fashion Industry Research On A Shoestring. (Click to read full article)

I hope you enjoy reading it.  Please leave your comments

Design Research and Visual Literacy

The designer and the scientist have a lot more in common as researchers than most people might think. Design research involves observation, note-taking, collecting samples, categorizing & recognizing patterns, and experimenting with materials.

Of course, there are marked differences between the scientist and the designer as researchers, too. There is no rigorous, codified “method” for all designers or artists, who have greater liberty than scientists to come up with their own approaches. Design research is also much more heavily reliant on access to visual resources than scientific research. Moreover, there are many in the design fields who eschew what they refer to as “scientism” in the design research process (see this Atlantic article for more on that topic)

via Design Research and Visual Literacy.  (Click to read full article)

Top Misconceptions of Fashion Schools and Their Students

Librarians are not alone in being stereotyped. People involved in fashion generally get written-off as shallow and lacking intellectual interests. While fashion folk certainly delight in the temporal and aesthetic, it is misguided to assume they lack interests that go deeper than the surface. Moreover, the contributions of fashion to our culture, economy and social history should never be dismissed.  To do so, in the words of Miranda Priestly, is sort of comical.So what are these common misconceptions?

via Top Misconceptions of Fashion Schools and Their Students. (Click to read full article)

The Ideas Box – A Library for Refugees

Libraries without Borders asked French designer Philippe Starck to create a pop-up library to serve refugees from the Congo.  What he and his team came up is a beautiful, functional set of information treasure chests called the Ideas Box.

Each set is comprised of four boxes – Connect, Learn, Play and Create -which contain among other things: 15 tablets and 4 laptops (internet connected), 50 e-readers and 5000 ebooks, 250 hardcopy books, a cinema modale, 5 HD cameras, board games, videos, craft materials and more. Tents and tables are also included.

Read more about it and check out the video!

Article: How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog

How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog

This is a great little article about research, both data-driven and visual, and the design process –

Designers taking photographs at Frog

Designers at Frog

Color Me Informed!

Our response to color is almost primal.  Color can make us desire something or recoil from it.  Color as symbol is an admixture of culturally rooted meaning and deeply personal experience, and it is always evolving.  Yet color is perceived differently and with varying subtly by each of us.  In fact, it is all in our heads – it’s our brains that give objects color.  For all these reasons and more, using words to talk about color, or to search for it on the web, or to communicate it to another person can be very, very difficult.  Which is ironic fitting, as color itself can communication much more than words can say.

Color by Number


Munsell Color Tree

Over time, various systems have been devised to describe color for the purposes of understanding its power, for pigment mixing, printing, color matching and most recently web design.  Of the systems still in use today, like MunsellPantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hexadecimal, many can be used to search for color online, too.  The following online tools use color systems for discovery and creation.


Find images by color or palette

TinEye Labs – Multicolr Search Engine
Allows users to click colors on a palette and uses the hexadecimal system to retrieve Creative Commons images from Flickr.  Provides users with the hexadecimal number of the colors they have chosen.
Copper Hewitt Museum – Our collection by color
Like the TinEye search, users can click on colors from a square palette and the search uses the hexadecimal system to retrieve matches (or near matches) from the museums extensive collection of textiles, posters, and other design & decorative arts items.
hm74g4[1]Hermitage Museum – Search by Color and Color Layout
The former palace of the Russian Czars, The Hermitage is one of the world’s grandest and greatest art museums.  Teaming with IBM you can now search their collection by color and multi-color layout. кру́то!

Create and find palettes from a color or from an image


Color Hunter
Color Hunter is a website where you can find and make color palettes created from images.To find color palettes on Color Hunter, enter a search term in the box at the top of the page. You can search by tag or hex color code or image URL. If you have an image or image url, you can upload it and get a color palette based on the colors in the image.
The makers of the ColorMunki spectrometer have created an online color palette creation tool, which give users access to both the Munsell and Pantone systems.  You can also brown photo generated palettes and user generated, and when you click on the color chip it will find a match in Munsell or Pantone!
COLOURlovers is a social network, as well as a place to find tools for create and sharie color palettes, seamless patterns, and palettes from from photo graphs.  Registration is required for access to some of the tools


Color ‘n Books (including coloring books)


If you want to find books about a specific color or about color in general, chances are that you would like a expert overview about the history, symbolism, or use of color in a certain fields,  Here are some hints for searching our catalog (or any library catalog) with some precision.

  • Add one or two defining terms to your keyword search.  Some good ones for our collection at FIT include:  art, design, fashion, theory, psychology, symbolism, consumer behavior, marketing 
  • If you are still getting a lot of false hits, try searching for your words in the Subject Headingof the catalog, instead of searching everything.  This will go a long way to eliminate off-topic books, like Green is the New Black or Famous for Fifteen Minutes by Ultra Violet, which have little or nothing to do with color.colourhunting
  • Think of alternate terms that relate to color.  Books about Pigment or Dyes might not have the word color in the title or subject, but might still be very relevant.  Books about Trend Forecasting definitely will have great information about color trend cycles.
  • And, yes, we do have coloring books . . . and we also have scanners and photocopy machines.  Just sayin’


Marion Fasel – Jewelry Author, Expert, Journalist and Friend

Rescheduled for March 14th at 3:00 PM in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre.

On February 28th at 3:00 PM, FIT students and faculty are invited to a Love Your Library 2014 interview with Marion Fasel, jewelry author, expert and journalist. As the person interviewing her, I have to admit that I’m more than a little nervous. Not only is Marion Fasel incredibly accomplished, she’s also an old friend. Somehow this makes the task all the more daunting.

I’ve known Marion since childhood.  Our families attended the same church.  We went to the same high school.  We even briefly shared a BFF, believe it or not. But It was in New York City, after about five years of my moving here that our current friendship really began.  I was working at  St. Martin’s Press in Flatiron building and was visiting a friend for lunch, who worked close by at the soon-to-be-gone Bettman Photo Archives (but that’s another story).  Afraid of being late for a meeting, I was scurrying out of the Bettman offices when whom should I run into but Marion, whom I hadn’t seen since my first days in the city.  She was there to do image research, as it turned out. She and her writing partner, Penny Proddow, were putting the finishing touches on a book, Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels, which would be published the next yeardiamonds.  I remember being so impressed.  Working in the publishing, rather than the writing end of things, I knew how hard it was to get a book contract. And this was to be Marion’s second.  We were both in hurry, so we quickly exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together. And we did.  And we still do.

Over the years, through all manner of ups and downs, Marion has been a good and constant friend. In fact, when I think about Marion, the first thing I think of is what truly decent and delightfully genuine person she is. I don’t think automatically think about the accomplishments. Could it be that this is why I feel a little less than ready to interview her about her career?   In preparation for the Love Your Library event, I have been researching my friend as a writer, journalist and fine jewelry expert. It has been quite interesting to learn about things that she has done, which she justifiably could have bragged about, but which she has never divulged or volunteered in our conversations.  I was not surprised, however, to see one blog describe her as the “kindest most joyful jewelry journalist.”  Kindness?  Joy?  In the fashion industry?  In the magazine business?  You bet.  Perhaps, that’s the secret to her success.

The interview will cover how she started in the industry, what inspires and motivates her as a writer, her views on contemporary jewelers and jewelry trends, the future of fashion journalism, and time permitting, questions from the audience.   I hope to learn a lot.  Please come, because I think you will learn a lot, too.


Marion Fasel has been the Contributing Editor of Fine Jewelry and Watches at InStyle for over fifteen years. She has also authored or co-authored seven books about twentieth century jewelry design history. For a list of books in the FIT Library’s collection authored by Marion Fasel, click here.