This impressive application shows the way forward, not just for visual education, but for all learning.

Professor R. D. Hickman, School of Education, University of Cambridge

Molly’s World 1: from ammonite to Liberty’s scarf hall.

I hope you’ll indulge me: I’m going to use the first few posts to relate how Molly’s World started and recall memorable moments along what has been a surprisingly long journey. It goes back to a lifelong fascination with natural materials and patterns which, with the arrival of digital technologies, turned into gathering the ‘data from nature’ that are key to the colouring and design element of the app, and to its graphic ‘style’. In 2003 I bought a digital scanner and liked to collect things on my walks around the local country lanes – decaying leaves, feathers, grass seeds, flowers – to see how they looked as ‘scans’.

One day in the autumn I was window-shopping in one of Cardiff’s many historic arcades and saw a large, and very beautiful, ammonite fossil in a shop called ‘Crystals’. It was split into two polished halves – perfect for the scanner bed! – and so I indulged. The resulting scan was dismal: the fossil glowed with subtle olive greens, flecks of gold, deep reds and an array of browns; the scanned image was an almost unrelieved muddy brown.

Quite why a device that could reproduce photographs perfectly well couldn’t ‘see’ these colours mystified me. Reflecting on the fact that the scanner cost less than the ammonite I decided to go up-market. An Epson machine favoured, I was assured, by watercolour artists was duly acquired at ten times the cost. It did not disappoint.

A succession of minerals quickly followed and ‘the scans’ began to occupy most of my free time. I couldn’t fully explain their fascination: many of the images were undeniably beautiful, but to me they felt like glimpses into the inner order of Nature, bringing to mind a passage in Wordsworth: ‘with an eye made quiet by the power / Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / We see into the life of things.’

A friend told me about digital printing onto fabric rather than paper, and when I showed the first prints on linen to a neighbour, a fireman by profession, he observed of the right-hand image above that ‘you’ve got the cosmos above and the beginnings of embryonic life across the bottom’ concluding that ‘everyone’s going to like these; they’re made like us.’ I thanked him and observed that two of my ‘heroes’, John Ruskin and Goethe, would share his view.

In the absence of any interest from the art world, where beauty is now generally considered undesirable if not downright dangerous, decorative fabrics seemed to offer a way forward and I decided to sponsor a project – Frocks from Rocks – in the Fashion Design department at Newport University. This led to an exhibition in the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea and at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, but it was only when I was listening to the BBC Today programme on Radio 4, in the autumn of 2009, that the glimmer of a real breakthrough came.

It was shortly after 8.30 and John Humphrys was interviewing Liberty’s new Head of Buying, a New Yorker named Ed Burstell. In his inimitable, slightly mocking style Humphrys asked ‘What are you, an American, going to do to revive this quintessentially British store?’. Among Burstell’s plans was what he called an ‘Open Call’ – an invitation to ‘the great British public’ to bring in designs and products they might sell. I registered for the first ‘call’ in November, only to find myself with a heavy cold. Not relishing the thought of a long queue in the forecast wind and rain, I emailed an apology and registered for the next event the following February. And that, it transpired, was to be filmed for a new BBC2 series, ‘Britain’s Next Big Thing’. The day began at 9.00am and I was eventually seen at 7.00pm. But Burstell and his colleagues loved ‘the scans’: Liberty’s world-renowned Scarf Hall beckoned.