Design & SimulationMarch 29, 2019

Engaging our world with Re-generative design

Design encompasses many important ideas and considerations—about our lives, the future, our…
Avatar Anne Asensio

Design encompasses many important ideas and considerations—about our lives, the future, our concepts of science in the context of design (and design in the context of science). Design itself has evolved, from designing products (both physical and immaterial) to designing experiences, made up of systems, systems-of-systems and now continuing to progress using micro-technology and big data into complex adaptive systems. More and more, we are able to design and deploy ideas directly into the domain of “nature” and in many ways “design” nature.

Natural systems are self-adaptive and complex. We are tempted to emulate them. Our focus now is the whole ecosystem, including the biosphere, our health system, our society and our own being; but our bold endeavor triggers unintended effects, causing unintended negative consequences for the systems and for us that can go unrecognized until years later. Uncovering and addressing those outcomes is much more challenging than designing a robot or a car.

The systems we design for today—the environment, cities, biological organisms, the human entity—present much more significant challenges than operational excellence. But under our strong industrial mindset, the natural and artificial are now merging to ultimately make us live in an artificial world of our own device, a consequence of our linear, open-ended thinking.

These problems, however, exceed our ability to stay only within the domain of the artificial. Science and engineering focusing on things like synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and tackling these massively complex problems would not be sufficient. Even artificial intelligence falls into the “digital versus natural” realm, developing AI’s relationship to the study of the brain beyond merely a metaphorical one.

There is an important need for a shift in thinking about design; but the search for the ability to think about any sort of interventions is daunting, considering the effects that even one design can have on all the systems that touch it. If we consider design as an effect – Stephane Vial, “Court traité du design “ on our world, a form “effect”, a social effect and an experiential effect, the question is the conditions we place now around the design act, and leading designers to a new realm of responsibility.

This is about design getting outside of itself, considering from the start sustaining (not impinging on) nature and the natural world, thinking of design as transformative through its effects and manifestation on the world. This is about getting users, citizens, society into a design-thinking attitude. This is about moving from the technology and efficiencies of AI-assisted generative design and moving to re-generative design.

A re-generative effect by design

This evolution is shifting the role of designers. No longer masters, they have now become participants within design systems. Boundaries today are not as well defined as when designers worked for companies or governments to develop products and systems focusing primarily on making sure society works efficiently. It is no longer that simple.

We know that increasingly we must depend on nature to guide us through the complexity and the unknowability (given our current tools). We also know that we have to change the regime of today’s research by re-directing the development of modern design to the future of science, into a complementary process of participative design that places the designer and the scientist together.

While impossible for designers and scientists to predict outcomes of a complex self-adaptive system, especially at all scales, it is possible for us to perceive, understand and take responsibility for our interventions, if we consider, experience, and experiment with them, if we become part of them.

There are really two choices, not exclusive from each other.

One way is to trust technology—like artificial intelligence, generative design—using it and optimizing in a way to improve efficiency and results or experimenting with new possibilities, and unfold unknown findings.

This is our traditional way of thinking, a traditional open-ended linear perspective. In this place, with the right set up, both simulations and virtual universes offer new environments for visualizing, testing or evaluating the scope at large. In this place, new territories and experimentations inform the designer of the heart of system behavior through a system representation that is physically correct. The perspective of seeing and experimenting in virtual universes, testing many projections of possibilities, enables the designer to experiment with different approaches.

The other way emphasizes participative and inclusive design, interconnectivity and transdisciplinary processes, looking at design in context with the challenges of the world. This approach understands the full impact of our actions in a full cycle, with iterative re-considerations of actions until we arrive at relevant findings for a decision.

As a “participant” both of the real (analog workshop of inclusive thinking) and the virtual (where all scenarios are enriched with data, intelligence and vibrant representations), the designer can engage at all scales. The designer can see and perceive beyond the scope of human eyes, in a top-down and bottom-up visual dialogue, enabling a larger vision by being aware of the systems we are in and with which we are continuously interacting.

Dassault Systèmes’ strategy covers both technology innovation and business innovation with a single 3DEXPERIENCE platform that answers both of today’s design trends for technology and user participation and inclusion, providing openness and emotional connection for designers and citizens.

Acculturation, visualization, understanding design capacities trigger imagination and drive towards more responsible ways of making and doing. This fundamental shift requires that we reconsider design in these new lights with a new set of values, new practices and approaches. Being and acting as a participant of all systems, immersed in the “perceived” sensibility at all scales, we will better comprehend and be able to tackle extremely important problems. Instead of designing other people’s systems, we will re-design our way by shifting our thinking, affecting the world by first re-designing ourselves.

As in the original Renaissance, designers can apply their art in an emerging Industry Renaissance. If we disqualify design for technology, or art for science, as too often was done in the past, we disqualify an important part of ourselves, the human. We can continue in old ways, or we can focus on changing ourselves and the way we do things in order to change the world.


Join me and designers from around the world to see regenerative design in action at Dassault Systemes’ Design in the Age of Experience event during Milan Design Week, April 8 – 14, 2019.

Speakers include: Patrick Jouin / Patrick Jouin ID, Mario Carpo / University College London, Anna Bernagozzi / ENSAD, Toshiko Mori / Toshiko Mori Architect, Oke Hauser / Mini Living

I look forward to seeing you there.

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