Ragne Emardson, Dean of Faculty, The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås
Interviewed by Sofie Kinnefors
How does a Swede from a little town on the west coast of Sweden go from being a rocket scientist for NASA, then a pioneering GPS communications engineer with Saab Ericsson Space, only to become a Dean of one of the world’s most prestigious design schools? In an exclusive interview with Ragne Emardson, the new Research Supervisor and Dean of Faculty at The Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås, Swedish Press discovered that the path from space to sustainable design isn’t so farfetched.
Tell us more about yourself.
I grew up in a small town on the Swedish west-coast called Ulricehamn. At 18 years of age I moved to Gothenburg to study at Chalmers University of Technology. After earning a Master’s degree and a PhD in space science I moved to California to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a researcher. JPL is the primary center in the US for robotic exploration of the solar system. After a few years in California, I returned to Sweden to work for Ericsson, where I developed systems for mobile data communication, such as the one’s we have in our mobile phones today (frequently used for social media applications, as an example). I eventually started working for Saab Ericsson Space to develop a European navigation system, similar to the GPS. From there I moved on to what is now called the RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), where I worked as research director for a department responsible for Swedish references, such as the kilogram, meter and clocks for keeping Swedish time. We also developed a new methodology for making measurements based on human experiences.
When did you start working at the University of Borås?
I started as Dean of Faculty on March 1, 2018.
What does your job as Research Supervisor and Dean of Faculty entail?
My primary task is to create an environment, in which all our talented co-workers can perform their very best. This includes working with overall strategies and how to develop as a University, as well as several practical issues, such as budget work.
What makes The Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås stand out from other design schools around the country and internationally?
The Swedish School of Textiles combines different fields, such as management, engineering and design, all in one place. I believe this is somewhat unusual and also a strength, since we can easily work together bringing expertise from different disciplines. One of our main characteristics is our highly experimental approach to design. This means that, for example, “traditional sketching” or ideation is something deeply rooted in experimenting and actual doing. It also means that in the research school and its programs, such as “Smart Textile Design and Body and Space,” basic research is central. This probably also set us apart from other design schools.
What is your primary goal for The Swedish School of Textiles?
To have an even more international environment. I would like for the school to be a place where talented people from all over the world can meet to create things together. Something that turns out even better than if they had worked on the project alone. I would also like to increase our transdisciplinary research, which is a key to future success. Finally, I would like for us to work towards and contribute to a more sustainable textile and fashion industry.
Who and what inspires you in your work?
I find it very inspiring to work with creative people. I also feel inspired when my work has a positive impact on our society. I often ask myself how we can use design for creating a sustainable future.
When and why did you become interested in design?
I got into design through my interest in architecture and art. I enjoy design that makes you challenge your ideas and your way of thinking. I find the discussion on how we can withdraw from the trend in urban design of more and more hostile architecture very interesting. I also find big thinking like the design of the city of Brasilia fascinating. That is a place I would very much like to visit on day.
In what ways are you artistic?
Unfortunately, I am not very artistically talented. I am lucky, however, to work with artistically talented colleagues. My only merit is perhaps that I designed my own house, which was built some ten years ago.
Who is your favorite designer?
The Swiss-French architect and designer Charles-Édouard Jeanneret,a.k.a “Le Corbusier.” He may not be considered a traditional designer, but I highly admire his ideas of rebuilding and recreating cities to improve living conditions for the people residing there. Charles-Édouard Jeanneret succeeded in creating residences for wealthy clients, as well as low-cost housing.
What’s your favorite color and why?
My favorite color is Blue. Probably because it reminds me of water, especially the ocean, which I often long for.
What’s the idea behind the Nobel Event annually hosted by the University of Borås?
The Nobel Event was founded by teachers from our technical department in 2009. It has since grown to a university-wide event with approximately 500 high school students from Borås and its surrounding areas in attendance each year. The event and its lectures, taught by teachers from our university, provide high school students with a better understanding of each year's Nobel Prize winners and their research, as well as information about our university. Our Nobel Event is highly appreciated, and many teachers chose to return with their classes.
What is the School is doing this spring?
Look for several important programs. First, we are currently working with Swedish designer Naim Josefi to develop innovative fashion based on metallic materials. In our project, we use metallic materials in a functional manner to produce clothes, which can be worn by a wide range of people – for example, well-wearing and stylish protective clothing for those working in the metal industry. The project will expand to other sectors as well, such as the space industry.
Next, The “Balenciaga – Master of Couture” exhibition opened in Borås in December last year. The exhibition is held at the Textile Museum in the same building as our school, and The Swedish School of Textiles is hosting workshops in relation to the exhibition this spring.
The Swedish School of Textiles’ major exhibition for graduation students “EXIT” takes place in June. Visitors are invited to take part in a spectacular day featuring a fashion show, exhibitions and presentations. It’s a great opportunity to view and admire our graduation students’ projects.
Finally, we have new equipment that will hopefully result in new interesting projects and research. Our new equipment includes a new printer for advanced coating and a YuMi robot, which is a new type of smart robot for assembly automation using collaborative techniques. We plan to use it for textiles.
One more thing. In collaboration with Volvo Trucks we have also received a truck cabin, which our students and researchers can work with to develop new innovative solutions.
How do you think the image of Sweden is changing and developing internationally and particularly in North America?
I believe the image of Sweden has changed in much of the world but perhaps particularly in the US the last few years. At the time when I lived in California, news about Sweden was frequently about the progressive country in the forefront, often with new legislation. News were generally positive, though perhaps with a sometimes playful tone about the country as a socialist utopia.
Today foreign news are more focused on different problems that the ones we have. Unfortunately, there are groups in Sweden today that systematically try to spread a negative image of Sweden both within the country but also abroad. Of course we have problems, but I believe the image has changed much more than the country itself.