• Xavi Rangel

Generative Design: A disruptive paradigm

Actualizado: hace 6 días

Design is in everything

Design is a very, very broad term. It’s used in many contexts and industries, and all of us have some grasping of what constitutes design. You probably had to design something. Maybe your boss asked you to design a strategy or a poster. Yet, defining “design” is a little tricky. We can say that design is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects. So, to have a thing, you first have to imagine what you want and what steps you will take to get it. It sounds straightforward, right? But like anything simple at first glance, it can be more complex when you dig up a little. The way that you design a movie poster is not the same as the one you need to design a wheelchair. Any problem that needs to be solved will probably need some level of design. In consequence, we have many design philosophies. But they all have something in common and that is the process of iteration.

Design process: repeat until you succeed

It is rare that any final product, object, or service is done at the first try of the design process. It needs feedback to test the performance of the design. The drawing on a napkin usually has to go through changes before the dress can be made. So, most of the design philosophies out there can be roughly summarized in the next flowchart:

Create, analyze, repeat

The creative process is a synthesis process [1]. The designer decides many things about the products based on their experience. Once you have generated the possible solution, you need to analyze it i.e. it has to be tested. You ask for feedback, you test a prototype or give the product to test the user experience. With this information, you analyze if the solution meets the requirements. Therefore, it is an iterative process.

Being an iterative process, designing can take a lot of time to make a good final product. When creating a part, you have to take into account many physical properties of said object. For example, if you design a camshaft, you don’t want it to break under normal operations of an engine. You want it to resist as much as possible without being too heavy or take too much space. At the same time, you have to take into account that you want to be able to manufacture it. Maybe you want a star-shaped camshaft but good luck finding a machine that can do that!

Designs in the past had to be simple because equations had to be calculated at hand. For this reason, many products were oversized, which make them costly and heavy. Computational calculations helped with this. Many software were created to simulate the conditions of the performance of a design. These new technologies helped to reduce the iterations.

But even with these developments, designers still need to validate their design. This process is usually known as prototyping. Prototyping, to put it simply, involves the creation of a product or system before its release. Creating a prototype can help designers understand better their product or concept. But prototyping can be costly and time-consuming. It may need highly trained technicians to create a prototype.

With the massification of the 3D printers, the creation of prototypes is more accessible. 3D printers also found their place in research centers and universities. It allowed the creation of scale models done easily.

At the same time, 3D printers open new possibilities for manufacturing. You can not only make more iterations but input new possible solutions.

These new technologies simplified and enhanced the "traditional" design process. But, there’s a new and exciting paradigm of design that is generative design.

Generative design: design like nature design

Generative design as a concept has been studied for many decades. It’s important to note that generative design is not a technology but a philosophy. [2]

Generative design is the process of using A.I. algorithms for the synthesis and analysis of creations. Thanks to the rise of the use of Machine Learning and Cloud Computing, Generative Design has gained attention.

Generative systems have been used in many different fields, one of them is art. You can find in here different graphic art created with generative procedures. And even art! Many pieces of art are being done thanks to 3D printing, like the work of Celestino Soddu.

3D Generative Prints by Celestino Soddu

There are several paradigms of generative design. Product design had found success in using generative design to emulate evolution. Evolutionary systems are inspired by natural selection and evolution. Nature has devised mechanisms for synthesis, through biochemistry and the use of DNA. The diverse life on our planet is proof of the power of these synthesis mechanisms.

This paradigm allows the designers to have new solutions that they wouldn't have come up on their own [2]. This helps to exploring quickly the space of solutions. The designer is then presented with more possibilities that on their own could not have come up with. The program can take into account the material, the manufacturability, the cost, and other requirements. Airbus used generative design for one of the partitions of one of its planes.

Design partition for a 320 Airbus

Many well-known CAD companies have created their generative design software. Autodesk has 360 Fusion, allowing the users to connect to cloud computing. Dassault Systemes, the developers of Solidworks and CATIA, has also made their generative software. Companies like Siemens have integrated generative design into their workflow.

As we can see, many generative designs unlock the potential of additive manufacture. 3D printing allows the creation of organic shapes and similar forms.

The role of the designer: understanding the complexities of the world

You may ask yourself: if computers generate the designs, then what is the role of the designer? Like a camper set to find the best camping spot, a designer wants to find a solution that meets the requirements. This could be a solution cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, useful, or a combination of all of them and more!

“Traditional” design involves the designer exploring the pool of solutions. The relationship between humans and design is pretty clear and straightforward. In the generative design approach, you manipulate the rules of the process. To do so, you need to understand the relations between the environment, process, and design. It becomes an “art” and as one, it cannot be formalized or have a formalized method to do it. The human designer needs to interact with the machine to create a solution [2]. At the same time, the limitations of the technology will ask a capacitated designer to fill the many blanks that technology can’t do for itself.

The idea is to augment the role of the designer, not to substitute it. Generative design is finding its way in many industries, including architecture and construction. This new paradigm of design will make many directors and supervisors rethink their traditional workflow. It’s hard to say what the future of generative design will be, but we can at least know, it will be interesting to watch.


[1] Mistieri, R. M. (1985). Diseño para nuestra realidad. Caracas, Distrito Capital: Equinoccio, Ed. de la Univ. Simón Bolívar.

[2] Soddu, C. (2006). Generative Design. A swimmer in a natural sea frame. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from http://www.soddu.it/ [3] McCormack, J. P., Dorin, A., & Innocent, T. C. (2005).Generative design: a paradigm for design research. In J. Redmond, D. Durling, & A. de Bono (Eds.), Futureground( Vol. 2, pp. 0 - 0). Monash University.

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