Generative Design

The future of CAD

Pencil & Paper : the unshakable duo

with 7 comments

Design researchers are an active bunch. In the Linked in group of Design Research alone, there is close to a good 6000 of them.  Many of them have been attempting to unravel the mysteries of design – “design process” to be specific. Design process , because it sounds scientific and retains the hope that one day rational thinking will somehow make it possible to bring the “irrational process” to order. Such hopes continue.

Despite decades of research and the many propositions made  for  a “rational process”   no progress seem to have been made, either by academics or by the CAD industry in ousting the dynamic duo – the pencil and paper. They are overwhelmingly the  designers choice for conceptual design. Their position in early stage design seems to be unshakable in officiating the start of any design.

In studying their very important role, I was lucky enough to find a long-buried research paper on hand sketching. They had studied this duo and concluded, that they work magic not on paper but on the minds of designers. It seems that their primary purpose is to stimulate the designers’ imagination and not as designers see it – to make note of their ideas (that’s for engineers).

Are there other ways to work this magic? Are there then tools to stimulate the mind ?  To most engineers, the human mind is too random, too unreliable to be trusted with important decisions. Rational analytical and verifiable processes are needed, by which the toil of lesser minds  can be swiftly and reliably replaced. If the mind needs to get involved, it puts off engineers. What are tools used for ? – stimulate the mind ? .No, computer scientist will not like the idea; tools to stimulate the mind , too corny.

But guess what?  That’s what I am increasingly convinced generative design is all about. Because:

in early stage design, the design is not fully formed, propositions are not fully made, its way less than half the picture – human imagination is needed for the rest.

So, Generative design seems to be about helping human designers explore more possibilities than what is humanly possible at a stage where the possibilities are unknown.


Written by Sivam Krish

July 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

7 Responses

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  1. As far as I’m involved into contemporary design research, it’s rather the method that is interesting by way of comparative analysis, rather than the futile search for the one ideal methodology, the panacea. Ask 10 designers or studios what their method is; the chance is that you’re presented with 10 different ones. And, as the socio-cultural background shifts, so do the methods unfolding from it. In any case, the sword is double-edged: once a method (way of doing something) has been found, a process (series of events) can be applied. Now, what these events are depends on who is selecting and triggering them – and in which order. Like human beings, design process is irrational by nature, if it was to be scientific, the result from it would be verifiable or falsifiable through repeatable experimental reproduction by the peer group – i.e. all other designers. The relativistic nature of design means, with a nod to Paul Feyerabend, that “anything goes” – even pencil and paper 😉

    Andreas Hopf

    July 22, 2010 at 1:05 am

    • Agreed Andreas, there is no need to have a single method. But just imagine a time say 5th century, you present designers then with pencil and paper. They use it to dig their ears and wipe their noses. Arn’t we doing the same with computers ?

      Sivam Krish

      August 14, 2010 at 2:37 am

      • Hi Sivam, I’m becoming more intrigued by this discussion. What are you trying to say: That history should be replaced sooner than later by the future? But, if paper and pencil works so well to solve the idealistic or client-induced or self-set tasks at hand – why should we be so eager to crave for a replacement mental extension? I think it’s a good thing to go back to Kostas Terzidis’ “Algorithmic Architecture” – a good read because it is so dismal, so superfluous, so shallow – but for the edited interview at the end where Kostas gets his algorthms slapped in his face left, right and centre. And, yes, rightly so, because he’s claiming that the human brain is lacking intelligence, a lacking that prevents humans from imagining, dreaming, scheming and finally erecting lasting buildings. But, the big mistake Terzidis and his proponents are making is that they are equating all walks of life with some kind of computation. Now, if this really was the case, investors, city councils, authorities, would (to save taxpayer’s funds) rather like to engange with such a “Turing Machine”. But, they don’t. And, why is this so? The simple reason is that if some entity commissions a body of work, we are dealing with trust. Trust in fesibility, trust in budget, trust in failure. That’s why the competition system is valid in architecure. If, let’s say, everything was as Luis Borges and his misreaders like Kevin Kelley would have it, then all aspects of man-made environment would be a matter of computational optimisation with the ulterior motivation of sidelining mankind to a “guest pass” status. But, as history of knowledge and science show, man-made irrationality has been the greatest purveyor of change.

        Andreas Hopf

        August 15, 2010 at 3:38 am

      • Hi Andreas, glad you find this discussing intriguing. That’s good. Because design is intriguing – I guess that is why we are interested in it. I am not making a case for procedural design. I have not read Kostas Terzidis’ “Algorithmic Architecture” , but I shall read it now. Thanks for the pointer. I am still reading up on many approches to design but my gut feel is that procedural design is the least promising approach as it follows the tail end of medival thinking – chasing the majic connection between numbers (that too using equations) beauty and perhaps God.

        I am a great devotee of the pencil and paper also a great fan of the computer. Can we think of ways in which we can use all of them to best advantage. The pencil and paper has been with us for a long time now and I guess we know how vital it is for design mainly in stimulating our thinking. Can we not do the same with computers?

        Computers are procedural machines, but we can use them for creative exploration just as we figured how to use pencil and paper. That is what I am after.

        Sivam Krish

        August 16, 2010 at 1:03 am

  2. Dear Andreas,
    Can you please post the “hand sketching research paper” you mentioned in your original article. I think it can be a good read for everyone interested in this subject.

    Omar Caruana

    November 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    • Hi Omar,

      Guidon R. Designing the design process: exploiting opportunistic thoughts. 40

      Human Computer Interaction 1990;5:305–44. 41
      [6] Goldschmidt G. The dialectics of sketching. Creative Research Journal 1991; 42

      are good papers to start with.


      Sivam Krish

      November 29, 2010 at 9:59 pm

  3. Dear Sivam,

    Thanks a lot for the reading list you suggested in your message. I will be having a look at these articles soon.


    Omar Caruana

    November 30, 2010 at 8:49 am

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