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Generative Design—The Intersection of Technology and Beauty

We use algorithms to reveal and understand consumer habits, for processing large calculations, predicting future states and traffic patterns—and now we can use it for creative design. The technique using algorithms is known as generative design, and it’s the next wave of creativity in the design world.

Generative design can handle massive amounts of data and, applied with code, it can create customized variations of design and patterns. According to Celestino Soddu, a professor of generative design at Politecnico di Milano university in Italy, the process uses algorithms to create unique, exclusive design, reflective of the unrefined design process in nature. It’s un-repeatable and organic—there can never be any other design like it. Designers can use this concept to quickly create patterns for illustrative work.

Does generative design sound foreign to you? You may not have known it then, but you were immersed in generative design if you watched the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Both the Beijing National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) and the Beijing National Aquatics Centre (Water Cube) were heavily dependent on generative design techniques.

It can also be much simpler than this. Check out the sketches below that I have personally created by using generative design. On the left is the backend—or the process—of the design. To the right is the final sketch.

As designers we are routinely expected to make our ideas come to life faster and better. Automation of tasks through the application of generative design could be the answer. We now have the ability to sketch with code and see—in real time—patterns unfold.

These automations speed the tasks of ideation for architecture, infographics, pattern development, illustrations, layouts and so much more.

Wouldn’t it be nice to say goodbye to the days of static charts and bar graphs? If you tie in your existing live data or past information with dynamically enabled graphics, you elevate the experience by informing and engaging viewers with informative design—we’re breathing life into mundane data.

Artists and designers use generative design to create immersive experiences as well. Another example comes from the hotel chain Ibis. Guests sleep on mattresses embedded with sensors that convert their movements, sounds and body temperature into data. A robot then converts this data into brush strokes painted onto a canvas. Guests can then take home the artwork of their personal sleeping patterns, leaving with a more rich, sensorial experience.

Technology as a medium in design is no longer an afterthought for designers. It’s taken a permanent residence in our tool belts and become a necessity on our design palettes. We’re no longer consulting technology at the end of our design processes, we are integrating it from the very beginning.

I used to think that computers were the antithesis of creativity; the most evil of all machines. I didn’t want anything to do with them. Then I started drawing on a computer, and I became immediately hooked. At my first agency job, I sat next to and worked with the programmers. Working with them, I learned I could merge my design ideas with their technical background and create animations and interactions. The web to me could be so much more than a scroll bar and a web-enabled brochure (granted—this was the late ’90s).

Generative design takes my two passions, creativity and technology, and meshes them together. It touches on drawing, animation and web apps. With processing becoming easier to understand, generative design is becoming a staple in our design processes.

There’s a lot of design out there that’s pattern-based. As a digital director here at LPK, my colleagues and I are working on integrating the generative design process into our workflow. I’m really inspired by where generative design is headed. It’s the natural step into what we can expect with the future of design and technology.

Check out some of my own sketches below.

Want to talk more generative design with me? Find me on Twitter @tomstuder or email me at tom_studer@lpk.com.


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