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VIII.2 March 2001
Page: 85
Digital Citation

University briefs: Drexel University

Kathi Martin

back to top  Philosophy of Design

Since its founding in 1891 as an Institute of Technology, Drexel University, Philadelphia, has expounded the virtues of the marriage of the craft and history of design to innovations in technology. This integration of current technology into a curriculum rich in traditional design skills and historical perspective supports the Drexel Historic Costume Collection digital museum project described in this article.

back to top  Design Process

In a collaboration between the College of Design Art (CoDA) and the College of Information Science and Technology (IST), an evolutionary prototype has been created for the Drexel Historic Costume Collection digital museum. As the project developed, so did the design process. Roles for the development group members needed in the process were defined as client/user, 3-D interactive designer, marketing director, tester/systems analyst, digital photographer (if new photographic images are to be created), and programmer. The number of people for roles of programmer, tester/analyst and photographer needed to fully implement the Web site design is dependent on the project size. At the prototyping level there is one person for each role.

The client/user, 3-D interactive designer, tester/systems analyst work together throughout the design process. To function as group facilitator, project overseer and architect of the graphic and interactive information delivered by the Web site, the 3-D interactive designer must be a generalist with a background in traditional design skills, competent in web authoring technology, a working knowledge of database design and some coding, domain knowledge, or the ability to quickly understand a domain at a high level of organization, and great communication skills. This member elicits functional and nonfunctional Web site requirements from the client/user. The 3-D interactive designer and the tester/analyst then analyze these requirements and begin the three—phase development of the prototype, evolving features and interactivity from the requirements specifications. At each phase the prototype is enhanced with the help of the other group members. Because the prototype is online early in the process, the world wide web is used to update and monitor progress of the prototype as features and interactivity are refined and added. It is accessible for input—regarding system and interface design—from all the group members. The client/user and marketing director are present at design review meetings, which occur throughout each phase to evaluate the correctness of the branding and features of the prototype. The process is illustrated in the graph above.

back to top  Design Project Example

Drexel University houses the Drexel Historic Costume Collection (DHCC), a teaching collection used for research by students and faculty of the College of Design Arts. This collection is available to the public through changing shows and by appointment with the curator. The collection was started from donations from family members of A.J. Drexel, the founder of the University.

Renee Chase, Fashion Design Program Director, assessed the need for conservation of the collection and an electronic database to document and manage it when trunks of historic costumes that had been in storage for twenty years were sorted. Some pieces were important to keep in the DHCC; the remaining garments were auctioned to antique dealers and collectors. These funds were used to renovate a small storage and display area for the collection and to create the electronic database that would include archival data and a thumbnail photograph of each object in the collection. Dr. Abby Goodrum, professor in the College of Information Science and Technology (IST), and I decided to work on the project together.

The project was an excellent case study for my research in information architecture, 3-D interactive design, and quality image capture. With a degree in Fine Arts and 20 years owning my own fashion design company, I brought to the project domain expertise in the fashion industry and training in the traditional skills of art and design. Dr. Goodrum's degree in information science and her industry experience in information retrieval system design complemented mine as builder and tester, and designer of information architecture.

Research for this project was begun as part of Dr. Michael Atwood's Human Computer Interaction course at IST. Survey, interview, and observation of fashion scholars, students, professionals and educators, were used to target user groups and identify their work environment, available technology, frequency of Web use, other methods of research currently used by the target audience, and "wish lists" of features. A feature list was elicited and prioritized. We discovered that what the users wanted most from this site were high quality images, multiple views and details of the objects in the collection, and multiple ways to create parameters for their online search. The object classification hierarchies we created are detailed at A branding keyword dictionary was developed by interviewing fashion professionals and by recording observations of students using other historic costume and fashion Web sites. Domain language defined in analysis of the information collected was used to name database tables and, with the branding keyword dictionary, to develop design metaphors that reflected the user's work environment. We decided to use a "runway" of images moving across the top of the search screen with drop lists of search criteria below the images to provide both a visual and a textual means to search the database. The user may view all the images in the database, as they move across the top of the screen in the runway, or, narrow his/her search by period, designer, category, fabrication, or donor. By including donor as a criteria, we hope to attract benefactors who will adopt a particular garment for preservation in exchange for appearing in the donor drop box and being forever associated with that garment's rebirth and inclusion on the Web site. Paper prototypes were created for screen navigation and for placement of features on the screen. From the feature list and user profiles, the database design was developed in Dr. Il Yeol Song's Information Systems Analysis and Design class. From this design, Abby and I developed a comprehensive data entry form, and data standards and definitions for collecting archival information from the collection. Abby designed and executed tests for this form (Goodrum and Martin, 1999).

We discovered that what the users wanted most from this site were high quality images, multiple views and details of objects in the collection, and multiple ways to create parameters for their online search.

A grant totaling $6,000 from the Costume Collection, the "seed money," and CoDA provided funds for image capture. Results of the requirements elicitation demonstrated a consistent need from all users for high quality graphics, close up views of garment details, and multiple views of each garment. Dave Gehosky was hired to join the group to photograph and import the images to develop 3-D object movies using Apple's QuickTime Virtual Reality modeling software. Dave had worked with Bella Veksler, curator of the DHCC on her book, Lace: The Poetry of Fashion (Veksler, 1998) and was familiar with the collection and also practiced in fashion photography. We decided on a uniform background color of pale grey for the images that would best display the garments.

With help from outside assessment by Nance Love, a textile conservator recommended by staff from the costume collection at the Philadelphia Art Museum, Bella and I selected 15 candidate garments, which could take the stress of being mounted on mannequins, for the database prototype. I gathered archival information and size specifications from the garments. Selecting a mid-tone grey as the best color to show the variety of colors and textures of the historic costumes, Bella's History of Costume class made mannequins for them. We prepared the garments, mounted them on the mannequins, and placed them on a specialized rotating rig. We rotated the mannequins and photographed them every 10 degrees, for a total of 36 views per garment. Apple's QTVR software was used to create object movies from these images.

The resulting images and the requirements of the searchable, archival database drove development requirements for Abby's Information Architecture class. From this class, Kindra Wright, a MSIS student joined the project as Associate Developer. The concept of image driven graphic design was used to create the branding and layout of the screens. A development process utilizing evolutionary prototyping from the earliest phases of the project was mapped out in Scott Overmyer's Requirements and Engineering class and Dr. June Verner's Software Project Management class. The Web site continues to evolve as features and interactivity are refined and tested as outlined in the design process. (The db interactivity is coded, but not yet loaded onto the site. This interactivity, as well as the movement of the images across the screen should be implemented by the time this article is published.)

Over 60 graduate, undergraduate, and Independent Study Students from various information systems classes in IST and the Fashion Design and Design and Merchandising programs at CoDA participated in the project, with Professor Goodrum, Professor Veksler and myself, conducting testing, data entry, data gathering, garment preparation, and image preparation.

The evolutionary prototype for the project can be viewed at //

back to top  Author

Kathi Martin
Assistant Professor, Design
College of Design Arts
Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA, 19104

Project Director
The Drexel Digital Museum Project:
Drexel Historic Costume Collection

Tel: 215-895-4941

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. tempcap

UF2Figure. On the home page, branding to the university and a link to the Drexel University homepage are created by the Drexel logo, Mario the Drexel Dragon, in the leftmost part of the menu. We wanted to design a clean, uncluttered space to display text providing background for the project and a photograph of a garment from the collection from Bella's book without the need to scroll. The ability to capture high quality graphics and view them at a reasonably fast load time from a variety of client/browser scenarios were driving factors in the design of the site.

UF3Figure. The search screen provides the option to either browse all of the images in the database— via the runway at the top of the screen—and select a garment for closer view, or narrow the search by constructing a query from the following criteria: Design Period, Designer, Category, Fabrication, and Donor.

UF4Figure. Double clicking on images chosen take the viewer to a high quality graphic, garment details, and the ability to rotate the garment 360 degrees, allowing viewing from all sides. This image is of Grace Kelly's Givenchy evening gown, worn during a birthday celebration for her in Philadelphia and donated by her to the collection.

UF5Figure. Clicking on certain "hot spots" on the garments, give the viewer high quality details of the piece. Books on historic costume, and possibly, patterns for some of the garments will be obtained from the order screen.

UF6Figure. The mystery screen displays garments about which we know very little and seek user input. Information on the origination and content of the DHCC is available on the history screen. Links to other relevant Web sites and contact information, including brief biographies of the development group are offered on the links and contact screens.

UF7Figure. Kathi Martin

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioners Workbench


  • Macromedia's Flash
  • DreamWeaver
  • Adobe PhotoShop
  • Quick Time Virtual Reality Authoring Studio Olympus 1000 Digitial Camera
  • Kaidon Panorama Photography rig
  • PHP3
  • My SQL
  • Linux

Publications & Web sites:

  1. Greenspun, P. Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, 1999, book.
  2. The Macintosh Guidelines for Human Interface Design, com/techpubs/mac/pdf/HIGuidelines.pdf
  3. Publish Magazine, Publish Media,

"I've got some costumes, lets put on a show!"--Judy Garland to Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy films.


  1. Goodrum, A. and Martin, K. "Bringing Fashion Out of the Closet: Classification Structure for the Drexel Historic Costume Collection," Bulletin of the American society for Information Science, 25:6, 1999.
  2. Veksler, B. Lace: The Poetry of Fashion, Schiffer, 1998.

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