A peculiar thing about new design technologies, and generative design in particular, is the ambiguity regarding the creator/tool dynamic. These new technologies are no longer just a representation tool like traditional CAD, but they have become intertwined with the creative process; it’s the machine as a design generator. This presents us with new relationships between CAD and the designer. While it used to be that the technology just made it easier to develop products it was still possible to achieve the same result with more traditional tools; these new technologies are a fundamental part of the design, being these tools that carry part of the development, parts too complex to be achieved by human beings.
In all of these cases it arises the question, who is the author of the design? For now the answer easily favours the designer, after all it is the human being who defines the features, the one who pushes the project forward and chooses which path to take. But as time moves forward and new developments start to take place in the space of artificial intelligence this might be subject to change.
But can you teach a machine to design?
Being that the design process is usually carried out in a very intuitive way and taking into account that it’s an activity that relies a lot on emotional appeal, it’s difficult to see how it could be taught to an artificial intelligence. Even harder if we dwell on the idea that a lot of the design methods are reflective in nature, something very hard to pass on with traditional teaching techniques.
Also we have to understand that machine learning operates on repetition, be it from observation or from actions, with constant adjustments, sometimes reaching its objective by pure brute force.
Today a machine might be able to learn something that emulates a design process but it would be certainly different from the methodology we use daily, it would be something specific for machines.
Now, the question we should be asking ourselves shouldn’t be if machines could learn design but why should we automate or delegate to an artificial intelligence a creative activity like design, where the human element is fundamental in the creation of paradigm shifts, differentiation and of course, cultural value.