Computational Design in Industrial Design: An Initial Investigation

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The project aims to understand the relationship between Computational Design (CD) and Industrial Design (ID) and to investigate future scenarios for CD adoption. CD can be defined as a shift in design representation and thinking, that has significant implications for the design process and its outcome. With CD, machines become active participants in the design process, producing design content in collaboration with the designer. CD allows designers to approach design problems from a different angle. Instead of focusing on a single artifact, they can define a process or system capable of generating a series of outputs exploring the design pace. The boundary conditions of this system can be associated with project requirements, environmental factors, user preferences, and the personal sensitivity of the designer. CD can increase efficiency during the design process by automating design tasks. Furthermore, CD stimulates creativity by encouraging designers to frame design problems differently and by exposing them to a large number of solutions that are sometimes beyond human imagination. The exploration of the design space depends on the generative capabilities of the algorithm used and is often unrelated to past products. Therefore, the solutions created through CD can go beyond typology, resulting in unexpected outcomes. The thesis covers CD  theoretical aspects, such as those linked to applying evolutionary processes inspired by nature to design. These theoretical notions can help to explore CD beyond the cases presented in this thesis.
The project also investigates CD methodologies. Among these, genetic algorithms stand out for optimization and design space exploration, while architected materials enable higher levels of control over geometry. The potential of CD in ID is outlined through a series of opportunities, such as the ability to: Explore a vast solution space, which can lead to new and innovative designs, augmenting creativity. Optimize technical requirements, from mechanical performances to those related to sustainability. Achieve hyper-control over geometry, which can lead to structures that can enable different mechanical properties and functions using a single material. Automate parts of the design process, which can increase efficiency and scalability. Create mass-customized products and configurators to meet the specific needs of individual users.

The first part of the thesis discusses CD’s present and past; the second part instead focuses on testing the water for possible adoption of the methodology among industrial designers. The collaboration with Accenture Industry X - Industrial Design (Formerly VanBerlo) was fundamental to outline the perspectives of industrial designers CD and in particular their view on opportunities and barriers to adopting the methodology. The research revealed a deep interest in CD: participants identified a vast range of opportunities from sustainability to using configurators for user research. However, there is a need to further explore CD and its future opportunities. The thesis concludes with a series of recommendations for making CD more accessible and usable in a professional context. This thesis intends to contribute to communicating the relevance of CD, hence spreading its use in ID.