Design without Designers
If you were born in the 14th century — you would not have heard the word design.
Once there was God
You would have heard about creation — a word old as language itself. But creation was solely God’s business. All the wonders of the world, even those created by man were attributed to him. The Renaissance changed this. Man became “the measure of all things”.
Man was now in charge of — this newly minted game- design. Entire professions emerged out of it and many of its practitioners dedicate their lives to it. The story of their lives is often full of sacrifices they made to hold on to their believes in design. They assume that the values of design are eternal. They thrive in this delusion. They forget that design was an invention in it self — of relatively recent origin.
Man just upped himself
Around the 14th century European men seem to have got a bit jealous of God. Perhaps they were annoyed. The free thinkers among them were bullied and harnessed by Gods representatives on earth who commissioned most of the major creations on earth. The 14th Century man needed a break.
He wanted to be like God. He realized that he was a creator in his own right. He wanted the kudos that goes with creation. Entering into direct competition with “the creator “— would have cost him an arm, leg or his neck: Instead even gave God a compass - so that God can geometrize like he does. By such cunning and generous act, God was seduced to play the same game — design. By doing so, his neck remained intact and was able to carry his brain full of cunning schemes — for the next few centuries.
Man — the creator
Believe it or not, you are God now. You are the creator, more powerful in your powers than ever before. You can summon the most powerful engines and processes with your figure tips. You can move tons of concrete and steel with a mouse. You can deploy an army of calculating clerks — to assess the viability of your design, its cost, its compliance with regulations, its thermal performance, construction sequence, and everything else needed for its creation. Never has so much of power been vested on you — the creator. Your creations are no longer a suggestion, or schemes. They are a representation of the real thing. You are no longer the small cog on the front wheel of creation — You are the creator.
Your role, like God is now to decide on what you or your client wants. In a time when machines can do most of the mundane aspects of design. You have just one main role — to define Intent. Because it is intent — that drives the rest of the game. Intent is the only bit we cannot leave computer to decide on our behalf. Because, it has to do with purpose. It is your role to define it; the computational slaves will do the rest. They are getting better at it every single day. In the biological world, we are playing with the very code of creation. We are creating new life forms. We are creators not designers. Our competition with God is over.
Machine — the creator
After initially throwing a hissy fit at the use of computers in design, desingers have now become addicted to it. But they are is still in charge. They loves all the fiddling that goes with it with all the philosophical, intellectual discourses and sound bites that accompanies it. But then they have been a bit too busy to notice something.
Designers seems to have arrived at a point where they are is no longer needed ?
Human fiddling seems to have hit its limits. Computers can do a good part of it better than we can. We are still on top of the game commanding computers to do what we wish them to do. We seek some comfort int he fact that computers are still far away from being able to create original works (as defined by us) . Currently computers can only create very similar forms — but that is only under our command. What happens when we are not in charge?
Nature — the Creator ?
There is something that every biologist knows and something that every scientist takes for granted, that the grand maestro of the game — is nature. With billions of years of patient practice and refinement, nature created us. The human brain is known to be the most complex item in the known universe, but it refuses the acknowledge the immense superiority of the process that created it over a a process called design — that it concocted rather recently.
Nature plays with code. This code creates itself, it tests itself against other bits of code. Code that collects what is needed to carry it through the grand game of evolution. It is Computational design of the finest form. Charles Darwin caused a commotion quite some time ago when he implied that nature has no particular direction or intention. Mendel figured out its biological mechanism — now called genes. Despite all this and all the vast computational capacities now available designers continue to design in the dumbest possible way.
It is time we create with code
This does not mean that all designers need to code their design. They can drag and drop or do mouse play as long as they accept that that the game has changed. The game is now about creating expressive representations of design within a computational medium and let it grow and evolve — to suite the intent defined by us. We need to leave the fiddling to the computer. There is lot for the human designer to do and we still don’t know how best to do it.
Generative design right now is where alchemy was before the formalization of science. All we can currently do, is bring all our software toys together — make it into one package, throw in some random numbers and watch in awe what comes out of it. You may notice that most of what comes out is rubbish. This was also the case in alchemy — till the chemistry emerged out of it.
Generative Design is about creating evolvable design representations that contain within themselves millions of possibilities. It is about creating a scheme in which these representations can come to play — not purely driven by parameters, but through complex schemes that brings natural laws to play at various stage of development and not just on final form.
Can you create without thinking ?
We have been brainwashed to believe that creation requires intelligence — or supreme intelligence. God the creator fulfilled this role. Then we took him out of the game and plunked ourselves in his throne. We sat pretty for couple of centuries. We created some really cool things. We created toys that can calculate better than we can, connect better than we can, reason better than we can. These toys have now become powerful enough carry the bulk of the burdens of design. We have come to rely heavily on these machines. But we are not quite sure of these machines can think.
We are entering an age of great intellectual discomfort where machines are outperforming us in tasks using methods of a different making, methods that are out of sync with the methods of our minds — producing better results than our minds can. Those who study intelligence are drawing to a conclusion that there are other types of intelligence, that are different to our own.
Are there other ways of designing?
There was, and there is. It is all around us. It has been practiced by Nature for billions of years. We know more about it now than we ever knew. We know that it does not rely on thinking. It relies on code, computation, smart ways of trying out possibilities based on schemes that have also evolved. It’s methods are different to our own. The computational medium lends itself nicely to this approach of design. But CAD does not. It is after all a human invention, to facilitate an age old way of designing. But the CAD rut is too difficult to get out off. It is incredibly seductive — it is meant to be that way.