A continuing issue in industrial design education is when to allow students to move from sketch work to 3D CAD modelling during studio practice—or whether to let them use CAD at all! I’ve heard of first year undergraduate modules where students are ‘banned’ from the use of CAD in an attempt to encourage sketchbook work and more explorative conceptual design practice. In my view this approach is somewhat draconian and does little to deal with the underlying reasons that attract less experienced designers to the comparative certainty of 3D CAD.
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Generative design is software that allows the designer to input goals and any specifications like materials, budget or manufacturing methods, the software then explores all possible solutions and gives the designer several designs to choose from.
This advanced technology is splitting people into two camps: The first camp feel that a computer cannot replace them, their skills are unique and specialised and not something that can be improved by a computer. The second camp disagrees. The people here feel that generative design makes us more efficient and even more creative. So, what camp are you in?
On 8 September 2017, we attended the Autodesk University South Africa event where generative design was a huge topic of conversation. And, back in May, we pinpointed generative design as one of the trends that’s leading advances in architecture. But, is generative design going to strip creativity away from us humans? We discuss how generative design is changing the role of the designer and whether that change is impacting creativity.
From creator to curator
A creator can be defined as a person or thing that brings something into existence. Whereas, a curator can be described as a keeper or guardian of something. If a designer is using a computer to select the best design option for them, they shift into more of a guardian role, overseeing the software that’s doing the creating and carefully selecting the final product. The designer is no longer a creator, but does that make them any less creative?
Earlier this year, Deezen published an article titled ‘Generative design software will give designers “superpowers”’. This is from a quote by Jeff Kowalski, the chief technology officer of Autodesk. He makes it clear that while generative design is a departure from the way we have traditionally done design, it’s not a threat to designers, instead it’s more like having superpowers.
And, in a way superpowers is an accurate word for what generative design can do for our creativity. Traditionally, an individual designer or small group of designers will come up with one solution based on a brief and, understandably, what they know, have experienced, their culture and upbringing. Whereas, a machine doesn’t have this kind of context, and can develop solutions based purely on the brief, free of environmental influencers.
The designer therefore becomes solely responsible for inputting the right requirements in answer to a brief, and then going through the various designs that the software has chosen and selecting the right one. This process may also help to redefine the problem and the requirements.
With the computer taking care of selecting a number of possible solutions, designers can channel their energy into ensuring that they understand the right requirements and that the right solution is selected. The designer has more responsibility – they are the overseer, the guardian and the keeper of the design. The computer may do the execution but the designers are the creative curators.
Bringing us closer to nature
Feroza Mobara, one of the BIM Specialists here at Baker Baynes, says generative design actually makes us more creative. Since the beginning of time human design has been full of straight, solid lines and geometric curves, which is unusual when you think about the shapes in nature – our original inspiration. Straight lines are certainly easier to design and make, which is perhaps why they make up most of our man made constructions. But, they are limiting, using more material and space than necessary, which is expensive and ineffective.
With 3D printing and additive design, we no longer need to be limited by straightness. In fact 3D printing favours this as it requires less material. As we covered earlier, human designers naturally design based on what they know. Whereas, generative design doesn’t have that context, which means it comes back with solutions that mimic nature’s curves, holes and lack of symmetry because it wants to give us the most functional yet lightweight solution available.
With this in mind, generative design is not killing our creativity, instead it’s exposing us to more creative solutions. We’re not going to be seeing just straight lines anymore but instead a whole range of new shapes specifically chosen because of their effectiveness rather than subjectivity.
Thabelo Netshivhungululu, the Head of BIM Services here at Baker Baynes, believes that generative design is the future because it’s a combination of human design and computer design: “AI can get to certain solutions quicker than a human mind can, so combine that with our insight and design capabilities then we can achieve better solutions faster”. Generative design offers greater design alternatives, easier design iterations, which will save time, money and ultimately boost creativity.
With generative design now featuring in several CAD programmes and Autodesk’s launch of its own generative design platform Dreamcatcher, this new trend is here to stay. So, will it be the death of creativity? We think not. It’s redefining the role of the designer into more of a curator role and widening our design options. Surely, this makes us more creative?