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Dasign: data driven, evolutionary, algorithmic & generative design

In generative design a designer does not create the final product but rather a system, algorithm or tool that in turn generates the final product. Some generative tools create many iterations and others lead to one product. The designer does not design the painting but rather the brush or the method. Instead of the still life one could develop “painting by numbers” for example. Take Joris Laarman. Joris created the Bone Chair using a software tool that simulates bone growth. GM created that tool to model efficient structures for its cars.  This caused C. Sven Johnson to ask a rather pertinent question on twitter, “Who is the designer of the “Bone Chair”?

And the question is not an easy one to answer. Is it Joris? The researcher that came up with the bone algorithm? The software developers that made the tool? The physical principles behind the algorithm? The scientists that discovered those principles? God or nature? All of the above? I for one have no answer. I do know however that generative design has a bright future.

The marriage of tech and design is all around us. In a world where everything is designed a meta “way to design” that algorithmically cuts through the clutter is very appealing. A perfect design algorithm could potentially engender choice in design the
same way that Google’s PageRank set of algorithms do for the web
. And this is what generative design already partially does. It simplifies design by codifying it and somewhere within lies the promise of “true”, “simple” & “beautiful” design.

With technologies such as 3D printing letting everyone design or co-design things there is also a real need for generative tools. They allow for unique designs but since each is machine made, the marriage is a conceptually comfortable and inexpensive one. Also, rather than forcing the customer into a “blank canvas conundrum” whereby the sheer possibility overwhelms them to the point inactivity, generated models could lead to choice or guided choice in design.

Boston based design duo Nervous System (who will be featured in a Shapeways interview soon) write code in Processing that makes beautiful rings and other items. Jessica Rosenkrantz & Jesse Louis-Rosenberg, who make up Nervous, even provide the tools they use to make their jewelry free of charge to other designers on their site

Belgian design duo Unfold (also the subject of an upcoming interview) who had a breakthrough with their ceramic 3D printing process recently also exhibited at Bits N’ Pieces with their Brain Wave Sofa. In this design an EEG was used to “design” the sofa.

Jan Habraken (we will interview him also) & Willem Derks developed Chairgenics for the Bits n’ Pieces show. For Chairgenics they created a chair genome and “bred” chairs in order to create the perfect chair.   

Singapore based software company Genometri makes technology that designs objects. Their Angel’s on Shapeways for example are all generated & all unique.  

Mitchell Whitelaw also made the weather bracelet a bracelet that displays the weather of Canberra.

Michael Piasecki’s Cellular Bowl, is beautiful & generated entirely in Processing.

Justin Marshall’s Generated ring is made with a suite of generated design software.

Mendel Heit also makes lovely objects using Shapeways & Processing.

Generative design has a myriad of applications. I anticipate that generative design will grow beyond the borders of the systems they are now. One the one hand ever more whimsical “data representations” will fall short of the strictest scope of generative design. On the other hand the nature of generative design will change. Whereas now the designer designs the tool that creates the product more involvement from “consumers” and more “intelligence” in the software will evolve. At the same time the “pure algorithm” will be ignored or augmented by the designer struggling to regain more input into the final object. To me the resulting movement will not be generative design in the purest sense. Rather it will be “Dasign”or data driven design. This design may be evolutionary, algorithmic or generative design but not necessarily rely on any of these for its core inspiration or make up. It will simply have the intersection of data and design as a identifiable characteristic. 

In the future I would expect to see many different data representations, Mii creators, “quiz design” and ultimately profile based design in a lot of different applications.

Data representations could be any representation of data turned into an object. A medallion based on the types of sites you visit as per your browser history. An earing where the thickness of the heart is the number of times it has been broken and the width is the number of times you’ve broken others. A portrait that does not show you but rather your facial symmetry (or lack thereof).

“Mii creator design” refines the sets of different generations of designs based on the users choices. Using the Nintendo Mii Creator it is already possible to with several generations come to a likeness of yourself or someone else. A similar system for bowls would quickly allow a person to, by simply choosing the design that best matched their preference out of the generated subset, come up with their designs.

In “quiz design” you answer a few questions, “what’s your favorite movie? your favorite song? Which picture do you like best? etc. Based on your answers the piece of software will then design the appropriate bowl. This might seem a bit far fetched but the necessary pieces for it are being built as we speak. Initial implementations would also not be that difficult but just have to have a dataset to start off with. This set could then evolve over time.

Profile based design goes further still by assuming, based on previous web searches & purchases, choices and content enjoyed, which designs you would enjoy. This is a rather compelling technology for online retailers to put it lightly and they will drive adoption for it. If you are a designer you should to not sit still until Amazon or Facebook come out with the “you would like to create this” recommendation engine. I urge any and every designer to explore the wealth of possibility that is generative design, right now.    

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