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Designed by algorithms

There’s a design technology that’s taking its cue from nature and generating functional design options – for everything from furniture to medical implants – that meet predetermined goals. It is not a fantasy, it’s the generative design. Let’s have a look at some examples of products, prototypes and concepts designed by algorithms. 

This article on generative design is based on information gathered at lectures and exhibitions that were part of San Francisco Design Week 2017, conferences IDTechEx 2017 in Berlin and Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon, and the exhibition “California: Designing Freedom” now shown in the Design Museum in London.


The traditional design process most designers know today can be a laborious, full multiple revisions and iterations before arriving at the finished product. But the generative design software – a new tool for designing – is helping to speed up the process and, more importantly, enabling designers to come up with ideas beyond their imagination.

The next stage of computer-aided design (CAD) will be generative.

With generative design, a designer simply enters his or her goals and constraints into the computer software. Once design parameters are defined for a specific project – for example, four legs, an elevated seat on a specific height, weight requirements, given materials – the software goes to work.

Employing evolutionary algorithms, generative design software uses predetermined criteria to produce thousands, possibly millions, of optimised options for a single design, using complex forms with precise amounts material, exactly where needed. The software creates optimised lattice structures that far exceed the performance of traditional configurations.

Generative design is not just about creating interesting designs. It is about doing the most optimised designs.

All given offers meet the designer’s criteria. And because the computer isn’t constrained by preconceived notions of what a chair should look like, it’s free to discover solutions that the designer might not have come up with on their own.

To put it simply, with traditional design (first chair from the left in the picture above), a designer might start creating a chair with an initial sketch and then play with the form and materials. The end product might be something sleek and functional, but also familiar.

Technologies such as computer-aided design software and 3D printing have opened the door to new possibilities, such as the lattice leg structure (Chair 2), but here designers are still somewhat limited in what they can do.

Generative design (Chair 3) removes those limitations by exploring all the various ways to make a chair that meets the designers’ requirements while producing unexpected and new forms.

Briefly speaking, the design process with generative design program consists of the following steps.

A designer starts by setting goals – an alloy chair that supports, for example, 200 lbs and weight less than 7 lbs. The software then begins to generate many possible solutions. Then, to ensure that the chair is strong enough to support the maximum weight, each iteration undergoes performance analysis.

Through many variations, the software continues to create, simulate, and optimise the design. From results, the designer selects the solution that best satisfies his or her needs. Then, the designer can produce a prototype using various fabrication methods – such as 3D printing – to do a real-world testing.

Generative design technology mimics nature, employing algorithms to create complex forms that imitate how the natural world accepts or rejects designs.

This technology can be applied to almost anything that needs to be designed – furniture, vehicles, buildings, cars, bridges, implants etc. Below you can find a handful of generative design projects.


Generative Art Nouveau

As you can see on the picture above, the software is quite talented in designing chairs –probably Antonio Gaudi would not be ashamed of such a design of a chair.


Bicycle frame

Generative designs of a chair and bicycle frames were part of the presentation entitled “The Future of Making Things is Now” that was held at Autodesk during San Francisco Design Week in June 2017.



Under Armour, an American company that manufactures footwear and sports apparel is an early adopter of generative design software. In 2016 the company introduced the Architech – the performance training shoe with a complex shape 3D-printed midsole.

Under Armour used selective laser sintering (SLS) to 3D print the Architech’s flexible yet durable complex lattice structure, made from bonded chalky substrate.

The Architech shoe performs admirably in activities that require lateral stability as well as those where flexibility, cushioning, and lightweight are critical, improving performance across athletic disciplines without the need to change shoes during varied training regimens.

Want a pair? Actually, this item is sold out. Another model – Architech Futurist – is not available anymore as well. Sorry.


Skateboard trucks

The skateboard truck was designed by designers Daniele Grandi and John Schmier in California based on tools developed by Autodesk.

The truck’s prototype is the part of the exhibition „California: Designing Freedom” that run in Design Museum in London until 17 October. If you will be visiting the British capital up to that time (London Design Festival is quite soon), I encourage you to visit this exhibition.



On the left: the traditional approach to node design. On the right: the optimised node that performs the same function as the original component, but with significant weight reduction.

The traditional part is handmade. The optimised version was made by digital fabrication employing laser-sintered steel powder.


Heat exchanger

A cleverly designed series of struts inside each of the tubes increases internal surface area and disrupts the flow of cooled fluid to maximise heat transfer. The outside form has been designed to increase the cooling surface area and utilise the cooling air as it passes through the device.


Bio-engineered surfaces

Autodesk Within Medical software enables implant designers to create a porous coating for implants to aid in osseointegration – the fusion between bone and implant – where the porosity itself can be tuned to allow for optimal fusion. The integrated lattice topologies have been developed specifically with cell growth in mind.

This spinal implant by Novax DMA was 3D-printed using a multi-planar structure based on hexagonal cells that resemble the porous structure of the trabecular bone.


Femoral implant

In the session „How Functional Generative Design Reshapes Everything” given at IDTechEx conference in Berlin that run in May 2017, Jesse Coors-Blankenship, the CEO and founder of the company Frustum, introduced Generate, the cloud-based generative design software.

One of the examples of optimised design is the body of a femoral implant. You can watch the entire session by Mr Jesse Coors-Blankenship on the video embedded below (image and sound quality is not the best as I recorded it using a tiny sport camera; however I hope you will find the recording interesting).


In addition to these examples, generative design can also be used to design a car chassis, bridge construction or even interiors of offices and apartments. Carl Bass – a member of Autodesk’s Board of Directors and former CEO of this company – talked about it in his lecture titled “Design and the Future of Work” at Web Summit 2016 conference in Lisbon. You can watch the entire session below.



Main picture: Under Armour’s press materials. All other photos and videos: TrendNomad.com.

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A milestone

Will in the near future an immersive storytelling in museums, galleries and places of historical events still be possible without using screens? Two designers from Chomko & Rosier studio know how to harness the storytelling potential of new non-screen-based digital technologies in a way that does not detract visitors from what makes visiting a place unique. An example of this approach is their project named ‘Heart of a King’.

‘Heart of a King’ is a prototype visitor experience designed by the duo Chomko & Rosier for Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity in London that manages and cares for six  royal palaces in the UK. Their project places visitors in the footsteps and emotional state of Charles I on the day of his execution in 1649. Visitors received a wooden, heart-shaped totem. The device creates a haptic heartbeat that acts as a compass, increasing in strength when pointed to Charles’ last path.


Following the heartbeat, visitors trace Charles’ final journey through St James Park and Whitehall, arriving in front of Banqueting House (it is all that remains of the opulent Whitehall Palace, once the largest palace in Europe, a labyrinth of 1,500 rooms), the place of his execution where the heart ceases to beat. On the journey, contextual signage styled as modern street signage gave visitors quotes and further information on 30 January 1649, the day the first English monarch was executed.

The heartbeat acts as a link, a universal human rhythm that allows users to enter the physiological and psychological state of the king Charles I before his execution.

The prototype of ‘Heart of a King’ processes GPS and orientation sensor readings in an Arduino-based microcontroller to modulate the strength of the heartbeat, giving the visitor an immersive, non-digital experience, guided only by the sense of touch.

The heart casings are milled from various hardwoods and finished with linseed oil.

‘Heart of a King’ is a part of the development phase of a multisensory experience named ‘The Lost Palace’. The aim of this project is to immerse visitors in the historical events and to retell stories that took place within the Palace of Whitehall, before fire destroyed it over 300 years ago.

In summer 2016, visitors of central London will uncover what was once considered the most magnificent palace in Europe. Through technical and theatrical innovations, including 3D audio, which is called by the Chomko & Rosier duo ‘a new form of virtual reality’, the spaces, stories and events from the palace will come to life in a multisensory, location-based experience.

To learn more details about ‘Heart of a King’ and ‘The Lost Palace’ projects, please watch the video interview with Matthew Rosier.


Chomko & Rosier design studio creates new ways of engaging with technology. Its founders, Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier, explore why people use technology, where and when it is appropriate and how we should interact with it. Jonathan and Matthew’s ideas bridge interaction design and architecture, resulting in physical, embedded works in public space. The studio’s previous work ‘Shadowing’ has been nominated for Designs of the Year 2015 by London Design Museum.

Chomko Rosier at RE WORK credits Trend Nomad
Photography by Trend Nomad

I spoke to Matthew Rosier at RE.WORK Future Technology Summit in London in Autumn 2015. If you have any questions regarding ‘Heart of a King’ or any other work by Chomko & Rosier, please feel free to contact Matthew at matthew@chomkorosier.com.


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Wipersless cars

Driverless cars need neither a driver nor wipers on a windscreen and rear window to ride safely. Will autonomous cars make professional drivers unemployed and also ruin suppliers of certain car parts?

If the forecast included in the report prepared by the Business Insider Intelligence comes true, in 2020 around 10 million driverless vehicles will ride on roads worldwide. The largest increase in this number during the considered period will occur in 2019. If the trend of this size continues after 2020, it will involve the rapid change of people’s lifestyle and their personal expenditure structure. The shift would also lead to remodeling local budgets allocated for public transport and appearance of new possibilities in city planning due to a considerable decline in demand for parking spaces. On the other hand, self-driving cars would have need lanes for a short-term stop to put passengers off or to pick them up.


This technological leap may bring many benefits. For example, self-driving cars may reduce the number of accidents, decreasing the number of deaths and injuries on roads and thereby cut spendings on ambulance and emergency medicine, rehabilitation, etc. Secondly, driverless cars may decrease traffic congestion in cities, reduce travelling time and consume energy more efficiently. They can also bring new business models based on cheap supply service of goods, for example, food, clothing and furniture. Since people can place an order online for fresh ingredients to prepare a meal delivered for pennies by an autonomous car, they can reduce the storage space in their kitchens. Urban dwellers will not need so many kitchen cabinets or large refrigerators as they do today. An impact on the furniture industry seems to be inevitable in the long run.

On the other hand, thousands or millions of professional drivers are at risk of losing their jobs in the long term, and insurance companies will see a significant drop in the number of customers. Autonomous vehicle does not exceed the speed limit which means cities will collect fewer funds from fines. Furthermore driving to the office or home will be counted as working time (imagine that we will miss an idleness and listening to music in traffic jams). This shift may also severely affect manufacturers of certain automotive parts.


Prototypes of self-driving cars shown by Mercedes and Google are significantly different. The first concept is a story about the luxury of the future designed for the most affluent clients who can afford an exclusive car. The second vehicle is ideal for a car sharing model. Corporations such as Uber and courier companies specializing in fast deliveries of small consignments will be delighted.

Mercedes F 015 carriage CES credits Trend Nomad
Although the shape of Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion is a hyper-futuristic, the arrangement of seats in the interior was based on the plan known for centuries from a carriage. Passengers in front and back rows can sit facing each other.

Passengers of Mercedes F 015 who do not feel well when traveling rear-facing, as well as those who like driving a car manually can rotate front seats to the dashboard and take control of the machine. But if it is raining, the driver will be quite surprised: wipers are not included. Apart from the fact that both prototypes are driverless, the lack of rubber wipers on a windscreen and a rear window is a feature that Mercedes F 015 and Google Car have in common.

Google Car Design Of the year credits Trend Nomad
Mock-up of self-driving Google Car is a part of the „Design of the Year 2015” exhibition shown at Design Museum in London.

It is neither a negligence of designers nor a depressing prediction of a permanent drought. Although California is a not a very rainy place especially in the summer when the Google Car will be tested on roads, designers are fully aware of random weather conditions. They designed wipers, but they are not working on windows. Instead, you can find little wipers on the roof where one of the most crucial parts of the self-driving car is installed. Under the black dome, all sensors scanning the environment around the vehicle are hidden. Tiny wipers on the roof are clearly visible on the mock-up presented at the Design Museum in London on the exhibition „Design of the Year 2015”. Incidentally, Google Car is the winner of Transportation category at this year edition of the contest.

Google Car wipers Design Of the Year credits Trend Nomad

If self-driving cars designed for the mass market will include domes full of hi-tech sensors scanning the surroundings, there is a chance that some manufacturers of wipers will survive, but undoubtedly they will have to decrease their supply. However, if the vision shown by Mercedes will come true (the F 015 does not include any rubber wiper; a clear visibility during the rain is probably provided by an ultrasonic force used on some modern jet fighters or another advanced invisible system), the producers of ordinary wipers may go bankrupt. A similar problem may concern manufacturers of steering wheels, gauge, gearboxes, etc. Hopefully, the value of new businesses based on self-driving cars will exceed negative returns of some automotive parts suppliers.

I had the pleasure to watch Mercedes-Benz F 015 in January 2015 in Las Vegas during the presentation given by Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, organized within the CES trade show. A mock-up of Google Car is a part of „Design of the Year 2015” exhibition which will be open for public at Design Museum in London until 31st of March 2016.

Photography: TrendNomad.com

Google Car

Do you like the article? Then buy me a coffee! You can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my blog. Just click the button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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