The Lovebytes case study will take a greater focus in reflecting on systems in nature as a means of generating form. These systems do not directly copy the machinations of evolution but reference a simplified model that is appropriate for design. This process is less concerned with creating species that reproduce, but with using variable parameters as a means of creating a large population of possibilities which can then be refined. The process can be seen as growing a seed, capable of responding to various factors but with a predetermined approximation of the finished design in sight.
Blauvelt proposes that instead of working iteratively or through variable means, Relational Design is focused on using generative means as a method and process in which to produce form. While this is true of the Lovebytes identity, the use of iteration is still part of the designers method. By working iteratively with generative means, the design works in a method similar to evolution by natural selection. Through the use of algorithms to create a vast amount of possibilities, parameters can be used to alter the ‘genes’ of the design and can act to save time when creating populations of logos. In looking at this new method of creating designed objects, I will illustrate that previous 20th century means of critique can not be applied to these designs, and will instead apply a new theory of objects to the finished design product. The aim of the design was to create an empathy with technology; this empathy can only be achieved by subverting the role of technology and making it docile and approachable. The symbolic nature of this logo used systems of evolution as a means of iterating towards the final product.
The parametric logo system designed for the 2007 Lovebytes Arts and Digital Media Festival is an example of using a generative process as a means of creating form. The theme for the festival was ‘Process’ focusing on the “creative and technical processes involved in making art with computers and digital systems.”1 The art director Matt Pyke and designer and coder Karsten Schmidt created an identity system capable of creating of generating over 20,000 unique designs. By responding to the brief to create an “empathy with technology” they worked with the idea of “simple, warm, soft technology.”2 The finished result was a simple representation of the brief: cute and furry monsters. These monsters were used in the promotional material of the festival, appearing on posters, the festival planner, the website and on postcards advertising the festival. This algorithm used the various parameters needed to create the creatures and forced them to interact with each other to create the animals.
These monsters have a range of emotions that create a connection with the viewer. By using a variety of parameters – length and colour of hair, head shape and colour, eyes and names – the designers created a species of monsters that responded to the need to create an empathy with technology.
The artist Patricia Piccinini deals with similar themes in her work, creating lifelike creatures that hover between the harmless and the monstrous. By making the artworks as realistic as possible viewers are confronted with the ethical ramifications of scientific progress. For Siren Mole: Exallocephalla Parthenopa she placed two mole like creatures into the Wombat Enclosure at the Melbourne Zoo. By placing the creatures into a place of authority the audience believed that this monstrosity were alive; questioning their relationship to this hideous creature. While Piccinini probes questions about biotechnology and hybridised life forms, her aim is for the audience to have an empathic relationship with her artworks. The aim of the festival was to provoke questions about our relationship to technology, by creating creatures capable of portraying emotion. By subverting technology and making it docile and approachable, the designers created an identity system capable of provoking empathy.
In order to provide a richer empathic relationship with the viewer they created names for the creatures through simple programmatic rules. Beginning with a consonant-vowel-consonant structure, they then applied a few more filters to create variety while avoiding chaotic strings of letters. Some One ruleset created ‘female’ names by ending them in either ‘i’ or ‘a’, another used a repetition of letters in order to simulate familiar naming conventions. Schmidt has admitted that some of these rules unintentionally enforce white-eurocentric naming conventions, perhaps under different rulesets a more globalised naming system could be achieved.
This generative approach challenges the role of the designer, who designs the ‘seed’ which spawns these designs automatically within parameters such as hair colour, hair length, head shape and name. 3
The concept of the designed ‘seed’ was expanded by Matt Pyke in an exhibition of his works entitled Designing Seeds. The exhibition showcased a range of his client based works which responded to the idea of “the process of designing seeds and environments for them to grow”.4 This process of autonomy questions and challenges the role of the designer and ideas of authorship. According to Galanter, we have moved away from the focus on the author or reader to a generative system that constructs form. This system need not be solely constructed by a group of networked people, can also be read as the algorithm: the complex feedback process between all parameters that the designer included in the seed. This lack of authorship is an “explicit externalisation of the artist’s decision making process” that “repeatedly finds the artists as a spectator of his own work.”5
The Designing Seeds exhibition showcased examples from Universal Everything’s portfolio that used the ‘seed’ metaphor as a means of generating work. All of these designs could not be replicated as each output was a result of computer code. One design used a generative system to mimic draped fabrics seen in Baroque sculpture for the V&A Museum. Another example made for the car company Audi simulated a wind tunnel, in which the wind was made visible in the form of particles which left a trace as they were blown over the surface of an invisible car, making the shape of the car visible by showing the collision between particles. Similar to the Lovebytes identity was an advertisement for Nokia advertised at Heathrow Airport. It also consists of a multitude of characters created through different defining parameters with an emphasis on different body shapes. In making a comparison to the Lovebytes identity, the multiplicity of each design operate in contrast to each other. The Nokia advertisement involved presenting a group of creatures on the screen at the same time whereas the Lovebytes identity kept each monster as an individual. They were never seen as a community or collective species of creatures, only as an individual, singular creature.
Perhaps a method in which to further explore the multiplicity of Lovebytes creatures is evident in Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production. Written at time when photography and cinema were beginning to show signs of maturity as mediums the distinction between original artworks to those reproduced mechanically creates an aura in artworks produced by hand. The use of generative algorithms to create artworks question this aura, as they are neither created directly by hand, nor are they copies. The Lovebytes identity as well as this new medium questions the nature of the aura. Has the aura become more enriched, because no two artworks are the same? Or does it further remove the aura because they have all sprouted from the same seed? This new method of creating and critiquing art sits uncomfortably between both questions. If there is no reproducibility, mechanical or otherwise, then what do we make of the genuine article, if there is one at all?
The whole province of genuineness is beyond technological (and of course not only technological) reproduction. But while in relation to manual production (the product of which is usually branded a forgery of the original) the genuine article keeps its full authority, in relation to reproduction to by technological means that is not the case.6
If the solution has not been found with Benjamin, we need to move away from attempting to find an aura. There is a material and immaterial difference between the algorithm and the printed or realised object. Bruce Sterling and his theory of the spime can illuminate the difference for this new paradigm shift. While his definition of the spime has centred around material objects, it can to some extent be applied to the printed Lovebytes identity. So far, the spime is a theoretical product, as the construction of these devices is not yet completely possible with the technology of today. The spime is a new class of physical object, one that is not a product of industrial processes but is part of the Internet of Things. They are objects – wine bottles, tennis rackets, chairs, shoes, any output of industrial design – that are trackable and searchable within their physical confines and contain the history of the product. These objects exist as files on the internet, and only become material when needed through advanced production techniques. They exist in the network and only become material when needed. “Spimes are manufactured objects whose informational support is so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system.”7 In discounting the application of the term to consumer products, we can see that the theory of the spime can be applied to the Lovebytes logo. These creatures do not exist accept for their material reality, whether that be a printed postcard or an image on the website. “Spimes begin and end as data, because they’re virtual objects first and actual objects second.”8 The immateriality of the parametric and generative instructions never provide for the logo to exist except as a result of material output.
The form of this identity is a result of the process in which it was generated. Both Galanter and Blauvelt position Modernism as concerning itself with visual language. For Blauvelt, Postmodernism was concerned with the semiotic meaning behind form, Galanter sees this as exhibiting anti–formal tendencies. Both see a rejection of form in the search for meaning. Blauvelt views our current period as focusing on Pragmatics as the dominant philosophy, illustrating an emphasis on a process of constant becoming. This is similar to Galanter who sees our contemporary period as being occupied with realised form as a result of process. Differing from the Modernist maxim of truth to materials, Galanter views Complexism as focused on a truth to process. The process is what should become revealed in the form. By approaching art from a truth to materials perspective, modernists viewed this as bringing a purity to their works. Viewing the canvas as a flat plane – not as a window capable of perspective – painting could express its true power. The designers of the Lovebytes identity have stayed true to their materials: code. With a festival theme of ‘process’, Schmidt and Pyke have successfully illustrated how such an ethereal term can be made concrete. This truth to process is a materialising method, in moving away from the designed object, to the designed process.
By applying the notion of evolution, complexity and generative processes to this or any other form of generative design or art is to enter into a metaphor of natural systems that do not apply verbatim. Systems of evolution require natural selection by reproduction: the Lovebytes creatures are not reproducing and passing on their genes to the next generation. There is no selective pressures to be gained and passed on. Evolution is not a teleological process; species merely respond to pressures that are immediate at the time, with no goal in sight, and adapt to them. Design on the other hand is a problem solving process with clear goals that need to be met. In this case there was an aesthetic need to respond to the brief in the creation of empathy with the viewer by using cute and furry creatures as the means to achieve this.
Artists typically have a vague to specific notion of what the desired result is, and then designs an evolutionary system to explore that aesthetic space. In doing so the design of the genetic representation is of meta–significance because it will constrain the space of all possible evolutionary paths.9
Galanter has devised a series of definitions in regard to how generative art remains as merely a metaphor for evolution. He defines these four levels of emergent complexity as Fixed Parameters, Extensible Parameters, Direct Mechanical and Reproductive Mechanical. The use of the seed metaphor as well as the Lovebytes identity reside in the level of Fixed Mechanical:
Fixed Parameters offer the simplest kind of genetic representation. For example, in a system for creating drawings of insects there would be a gene for head size, another for body colour, another for leg length, and so on. Such a system will always draw six legs, and so it will never draw a spider. A fixed parametric evolutionary system is always constrained.10
The parameters described here correspond with those of the Lovebytes creatures: the use of an insect metaphor can easily be transferred to our monsters. These fixed constraints ensure that the creatures exist in a region of optimality, instead of looking like a spider. Working up the chain of complexity towards Direct Mechanical would result in a minor lack of control in the hands of the designer. If the creatures had enough parameters to make them look like a different breed or species of furry empathic creatures, perhaps with different emotions, they would still reside in the same genetic domain. There would be no genes for the creation of creatures with legs, wings or the unexpected and nonsensical result of a chair. Galanter’s final complaint that generative systems should be as open ended as possible can only be taken so far as design works in the realm of the representational and the artificial. If this design were to create a true example of Reproductive Mechanical then the designer would have created artificial life. The aim of generative design is not to create designs that beget more designs, passing on elements to their offspring without the involvement of the designer. It is only with the designer’s eye is information transmitted from one generation to the next.
The iterative process is what allows each generation of Lovebytes creatures to progress towards the goal of a refined design. The selective pressures applied to the designer from each generation to the next act as the environment in which the species adapts to. As can be seen in the three stages applied by Schmidt and Pyke, there was a refinement process that used the various genes of the species to adapt to the next stage. By using a parametric method to create the creatures, they were able to quickly delve into the search space of possibilities in order to find the species deemed most fit.
Population thinking has switched the slogan of Darwinism from survival of the fittest to evolution as an automatic search process, it automatically searches the space of possibility 11
Schmidt has discussed how the large amounts of initial attributes had to be restrained to ensure that the final visual result did not encroach on aesthetics, sentiments or practicality. Some of these parameters, such as eye shape or size, were removed through the iterative process to allow the animals to allow a stronger feeling of empathy. Other elements relating to body size and shape had to be removed to allow the creatures to exist within a usable and plausible limit. They would “limit the number of possible outcomes or alternatively explode that ‘search space’ beyond our control”.12 This small variable limit needs to result in an optimal “region of interest” that could be used in the final design.13 This ‘region of interest’ can only be achieved with a very simplified evolutionary metaphor, these creatures did not need to reproduce, nor did they need to react to the environment. If any of the animals looked completely different they would have been useless, requiring him to spend a large amount of time deleting individual creatures. They all needed to look within the same confines of each other, to have a family likeness to ensure that the branding remained consistent across all 20,000 animals.
While this parametric method of designing challenges the role of the designer–as–author, power is exerted in the editing stage. Choosing which attributes of the species are more suited to the finished product gives the designer the ability to refine from a vast array of options. The second iteration is very close to the finished product, only a few adjustments are needed to refine the species to it’s final stage. The traits of hair colour, hair type and body shape are much closer to the finished product than their parents. Some ideas, as mentioned, were bred out before they reached the planning stage, allowing for a simpler generative process. The idea of the designer as author emerged as a response to the Deconstructionist attitudes of Postmodernism. If meaning was taken away form the author’s hands and placed in the hands of the reader, then the designer acted as an intermediary by altering the form and thus content. Relational design moves beyond this approach, by proclaiming that the role of the designer is now as an editor, acting as a valve to refine the large flows of information that is endemic to our contemporary culture. Applying this reasoning to this case study, the designers needed to restrict and restrain the large flow of possible permutations created by the vast amount of species that could have been created for the festival. Only by finding the optimal region of interest did they create a range of creatures capable of creating empathy with the viewer.
The methodology of creation for this case study revolves around the idea of the seed. In stating that it questions the authoritative role of the designer, Pyke and Schmidt argue that designers are concerned with the minutia of the finished product. The use of a seed metaphor opens up broad possibilities for creating large populations of designed objects, all with the same minute differences that are typical of a single species. However, by using terminology taken from natural systems, the question of appropriateness must be asked. Why this system and not others? Why a simplified version of natural processes and not a more comprehensive one? Why use an approach that need not be applied to the field of design? The answer to all of these questions must be a pragmatic one: because they work. The generative approach is informed by systems of evolution, but does not copy them completely. Design is concerned with the artificial world not the natural one. Yet these allusions serve to create designs that are not just novel and interesting, but are able to create 21st century methods of responding to 20th century questions. The parametric approach is capable of creating vast amounts of singular objects that cannot be reflected on by old notions of authenticity and reproduction. The new approach is not a mechanical one, but uses biological metaphors in the creation of new design objects that respond and relate to the needs of the our contemporary period. We are moving away from the old approach of viewing things as material objects towards viewing things as a result of immaterial processes. If this remains to be true, then the Lovebytes identity system will be remembered as one of the first species to recognise this shift.
1. Schmidt, Karsten Lovebytes 2007 generative ident toxi.in.process.
3. Lovebytes 2007 / Generative Branding Universal Everything
5. Solaas, Leonardo. Whitelaw, Mitchell. Watz, Marius. Levine, Jeremy. Generative Practice: The State of the Art Digimag
6. Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. (Pengun Books. St Ives. 1936)
7. Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things, (MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2005)
9. Galanter, Philip. Complexism and the Role of Evolutionary Art
11. Delanda, Manuel Deleuze and the Use of the Genetic Algorithm in Architecture YouTube: Columbia University
12. Schmidt ibid