Scholarly research ©Dr. Nanci Takeyama / design for

mar-aug 2012

from anthropology to design

phase 02: scholarly research


This phase consisted of literary reviews to position the investigation and the research questions based on the outcomes from the fieldwork done in February 2012.


project research

An intensive review of literature was conducted on the symbolism of the Cosmic Serpent from both a universal and a Laotian perspective. Team members presented their reviews of the literature during weekly meetings set aside for discussion and the exchange of ideas.

The team also investigated existing design projects in which others had collaborated with craft-based communities.



One of the main difficulties encountered during this investigation was the lack of reference materials. This is partially because the ancient Tai communities in Laos had passed down their traditions orally, which meant that written documentation did not exist until recent times. Today, the political entity of Laos People’s Democratic Republic has a population of 5.5 million, with 49 ethnic groups. Most of today’s population have lost the stories and traditions as a result of the many wars, social upheavals, and the eventual political isolation that took place between the 1950s and the 1980s.


Lao Textiles Bibliography

Bounyavong, D. D. (2001). Legend in the weavings. Khon Kaen, Thailand. The Group for Promotion of Art and Lao Textiles.

Bunce, F. D. (2004). Buddhist textiles of Laos, Lan Na, and the Isan: The iconography of design elements. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Campbell, J., & Abadie, M. J. (1981). The mythic image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Cheesman, P. (2009). Lao-Tai textiles: The textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus Co.

Chevalier, J., & Gheerbrant, A. (1994). A dictionary of symbols. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cirlot, J. E. (2002). A dictionary of symbols. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Findly, E. B. (2008). Plant lives: Borderline beings in Indian traditions (1st ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Hayashi, Y. (2003). Practical Buddhism among the Thai-Lao: Religion in the making of a region. Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto University Press.

Holt, J. (2009). Spirits of the place: Buddhism and Lao religious culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Mayoury, N. (2009). The enduring sacred landscape of the Naga. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Mekong Press.

McIntosh, L. S., & Tilleke & Gibbins International Ltd. (2012). Art of Southeast Asian textiles: The Tilleke & Gibbins collection. Chicago, IL: Serindia Publications.

Puranananda, J. (2007). The secrets of Southeast Asian textiles: Myth, status, and the supernatural : the James H W Thompson Foundation Symposium Papers. Bangkok: River Books.


Design Thinking Bibliography

Armstrong, H., (2011). Participate: Designing with user generated content. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Berman, D. B., (2008). Do good design: How designers can change the world. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Blossom, E. (2011). Material change: Design thinking and the social entrepreneurship movement. New York: Metropolis Books.

Borges, A., (2011). Design + craft: The Brazilian path. São Paulo: Editora Terceiro Nome

Brown, T. (2009). Design for change. New York: Harper Business.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper Business.

Chick, A. (2011). Design for sustainable change: How design and designers can drive the sustainability agenda. Lausanne: AVA Academia.

Designers meet artisans, a practical guide. (2005). UNESCO, (accessed in August 2012)

Gauthier, L. (2011). Design for change. Loire, France: Blackjack editions.

Heller, S. (2003). Citizen designer: Perspectives on design responsibility. New York: Allworth Press.

Human-centered design toolkit: An open-source toolkit to inspire new solutions in the developing world. (2011). IDEO, (accessed in August 2012)

Kelley, T. (2006). The ten faces of innovation: Strategies for heightening creativity. London: Profile Books.

Papanek, Victor J. (1985). Design for the real world: Human ecology and social change. London: Thames & Hudson.

Pilloton, E. (2009). Design revolution: 100 products that are changing people's lives. London: Thames & Hudson.

Shea, A. (2012). Designing for social change: Strategies for community-based graphic design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Simmons, C. (2011). Just design: Socially conscious design for critical causes. Cincinnati, OH: How Books.

Smith, C. E. (2007). Design for the other 90%. Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.


project outcomes

Although this investigation allowed the team to understand the basic meaning of the Cosmic Serpent symbol from both a universal and Laotian point of view, it required further and more in-depth investigation on the different types of Cosmic Serpent that are depicted in the textiles. To meet that aim, we have partnered with Patricia Cheesman, author of Lao-Tai textiles: The textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan.

The investigation on other design-craft collaboration projects led the group to Design Thinking frameworks, which were highly process-driven. This approach is one the team members were drawn to from the start. From the examples that we have researched and analysed, it became clear that the subsequent steps in the project would be to facilitate a workshop with the textile weavers to share with them the stories and meanings we have investigated.


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