Thomas’ research interests focus on the links between social and design processes. Her master’s research at the Royal College and Victoria and Albert Museum into the role of the designer in the commercialisation of Marcel Mauss’s (1924) Gift Exchange process, supported and guided the development of new KTPs in the School of the Arts’ Design Department. These included projects with hospice and palliative care charity Sue Ryder Care, BCE and John Crane Toys, on which she collaborated with University of Northampton researchers Friedemann Schaber and Randle Turner, all members of the Design Research Group. She has also researched the impact of knowledge transfer on international trade on the UK toy design and businesses in the giftware market, an important area for the companies in partnership through KTPs. For example, the collaboration into the use of new technologies and materials led to an increase in total gross profit of £400,000 for Sue Ryder Care – income that was used for palliative care.
Gift exchange and play
Building on the successful KTP projects, Thomas has been exploring the role of play and the toy design process on creativity in the community. Play has creative benefits far beyond childhood and even the design studio, encouraging entrepreneurship, providing therapeutic benefits, motivating staff, generating income and inspiring new design and development outside the toy industry. Thomas has explored these issues through a series of exhibitions, publications and conference papers including ALL Work and No PLAY makes you a dull DESIGNer(2013) at two venues In Northampton.
Thomas’ current research includes Researching Northamptonshire Toy Industry for a forthcoming exhibition, Batteries not Included with Guildhall Museum, Northampton, which will run from June to October 2014.
Cultural exchange of illustration and design
Thomas is not only researching gift exchange and play but is interested in cross-cultural exchange of illustration and design. Thomas’ work includes research based on the University of Northampton’s Osborne Robinson Poster Collection, resulting in a touring exhibition on the Polish Posters in the collection (2011-13), conference papers and an article in The Poster.
A Santander Bank funded project, A 1000 Words, explored illustration networks primarily within the publishing industry in Latin America and Europe. This led to an AHRC Networking bid and the establishment of an online network for all project collaborators and those interested in how illustrations images and designs are transferred across spatial and cultural boundaries.
As a design historian, Thomas has also been exploring how design skills, patterns of consumption and intellectual property rights are passed between generations. She has been working with Friedemann Schaber with family history resources in USA (Cincinnati) and Russia (Ufa) linked to the German diaspora in the nineteenth century. She has also been working with designer’s legacies including those of Mabel Lucie Attwell, Eryk Lipinski and George Studdy. The research has been published in two books and through a series of conference papers and promotional events. For example, a current industry partnership with Gresham Marketing and the Mary Evans Picture Library, sees Thomas commissioning The University of South Wales at Newport with the task of Re-Animating Bonzo for a the 90th anniversary of his animation debut in 1924 at the Cinema Museum, London planned for Autumn 2014.