• Provocative Questions: Generative Design

“What if? What if? What if?” That’s the question that drives every scientific discovery and every technological innovation.
Provocative Questions is a series of videos featuring current projects from the Autodesk Office of the CTO from robotics, to generative design, and even the internet of things. Get a behind-the-scenes peek into these efforts with key researchers in each area.

Let’s face it, computer aided design has always been a misnomer. Without question, computers have become indispensable partners in many aspects of modern life. They help us find great books and movies. They advise us on how to manage our finances or search for a mate. They can even help pinpoint that elusive downtown parking spot. But when it comes to design, you’re the one coming up with all the great ideas. The computer is mainly there to keep track. Computer-aided design? More like computer-aided documentation.

But the one-way relationship between designers and their tools is coming to an end — fast. Computers are evolving from passive order-takers to generative and even intuitive partners. Already, our computational tools can simulate and iterate designs at speeds no human can match. Combine recent advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing with equally impressive developments in materials science and additive manufacturing and soon we’ll be embarking on an entirely new era of design. “We’ve moving from the information age to the augmented age. Your natural capabilities are going to be radically augmented by computational systems that help you think,” says Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski. “Over the next 20 years, we’re going to experience greater changes to the way we work than we’ve seen in the last 2,000 years.”

For many, these changes will represent a 180-degree turn from the status quo. Today, designers often rely largely on experience, sensibility and intuition to develop design solutions. This process can be wonderfully artful — but also incredibly wasteful. How often do we realize only after many rounds of testing and prototyping that the “best” designs just aren’t buildable? In the new era, rather than inputting solutions into a computer, designers will input problems. The computer will then match all known needs and constraints with the widest possible array of materials and manufacturing options, and present every viable design.

Will computers take over design? We don’t consider that a likely outcome. We think computers are becoming better partners for humans, better at revealing and exploring possibilities, better at anticipating and augmenting ingenuity. Imagine it: Instead of having to learn a new design tool, the new design tool will learn you. In the words of Kowalski, our resident visionary, “We’re starting to see things that neither computers nor humans could ever have designed alone.”