How human and machine designers can best collaborate in the creative process
There is undeniable wonder and potential in artificial intelligence and machine learning. There is also anxiety. In the field of design, one of the main challenges facing the future is the human role in the machine process. In its essence, design is a problem-solving discipline operating within a certain set of principles. Even so, much of the magic – the emotion and the sensation of experience – happens outside the grid when rules are broken. AI may need human training, but once trained its future is unpredictable. So, if design is fundamentally about generating emotion, then we can speculate that AI may also learn to generate emotion. Tests have shown that this is, to some extent, possible. The question then is in how best humans and machines can collaborate to benefit the process of creation.
‘Our minds are powerful, our hands are limited even if boosted by computer-aided design,’ says Arturo Tedeschi. An architect and designer, his studio A>T in Milan works through computational design for brands such as Adidas, Volkswagen and Zaha Hadid Architects. Tedeschi’s methodology has clear advantages. Computational design helps speed up an idea and offers certain flexibility to transform shapes. Using algorithms, it allows the designer to reach a level of control and complexity that is, Tedeschi says, ‘beyond the human’s manual ability’. Then there is the added chance to experience the product in virtual reality. ‘AI and VR expand the possibility to explore new trajectories. Computational design is about creating relationships and link objects and data.’
Tedeschi brings the example of Iris, a complex transport concept he created in just five days. ‘We used design tools like DJs use instruments and samplers. It is the output of a crossover approach merging algorithmic design, AI and video games.’ Tedeschi says the integration of the VR environment with a sophisticated video game to included real-life materials, light behaviour and reflections created an immersive experience to evaluate how Iris looks and is experienced in the real world.
The precise nature of this design methodology can arguably limit radical thinking and chance creation. Tedeschi disagrees: ‘If you don’t control it (the machine), it controls you, with the risk of an inconsistent or trivial use of powerful tools.’ In this scenario the human designer is the conductor, delegating the complex and mechanical tasks to the computer and directing the machine in the act of creation. And it makes sense to allow the technical development side to be mechanised, so the human designer is free to be the artist inventor. In this ideal world, AI would work alongside the human creator to amplify the human experience.
London-based industrial designer Ross Lovegrove also works with machine learning technologies to create complex geometries and sculptural forms, with a big dose of emotion. His tool is generative design, which essentially looks to advanced AI algorithms to deliver solutions in repetition. Lovegrove is on a continued search into the possibilities of unifying technology, materials science and organic forms. Seeing himself as more a sculptor than a designer, his mission has been to create a new aesthetic that is biological, rather than mechanical, and an expression of this century.
Lovegrove’s career spans decades with an impressive portfolio to include the Go Chair for Bernhardt Design, the Twin’Z concept car for Renault, the Mumm Grand Cordon Champagne and, recently, the F1 Perfume for Designer Parfums. Working with the most advanced 3D printing technology, his three renditions are informed by motor racing, the performance cars’ spaceframes and airflow, even how the tyre grips the tarmac. His is an emotional translation of the almost intimidating process in which these winning F1 cars are constructed.
Lovegrove says his perfume bottle trilogy show what he has been pushing for over twenty years: ‘organic design that is a consequence of instinctive thinking and using new tools that are appropriate to the age we live in. The new energy, the new aesthetic is this freedom,’ he continues, ‘where everything and anything is interrelated – the materials, the science, the generative design, the data generation.’ Design has entered a new age. ‘With digital design, you press a button, and this object grows out of nowhere,’ says Lovegrove. ‘It is incredibly emotional. So, why would anyone do things the way they were done a hundred years ago?’
Tedeschi refers to the quote by the architect Cedric Price who wrote in 1966: ‘Technology is the answer, what was the question.’ (Nargess Banks)
Images 1 & 5 Ross Lovegrove’s 3D printed design for ‘Re-Inventing Shoes’ 2015 © Ross Lovegrove; images 2 & 3 A>T Iris 2020 © Arturo Tedeschi; image 4 Perfume bottle trilogy for Designer Parfums and F1 ©Ross Lovegrove
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