Generative Design

Opening the Pandora's Box

Introduction to generative design
2015-06-23 Patryk Kizny


Very often it happens that the air we breath is not the same as others’ and does not taste the same. This is an introductory article for a series on creative imaging, generative design, generative art and related subjects.

My aim is to raise awareness of these approaches to help apply them more frequently in business and creative context enriching the branding, advertising or marketing tools arsenal.

I’m an enthusiast of having a Big Picture, so let me put these things in a wider perspective for you.

Generative Design – a journey to the roots

We all know the stories of a genius artist fusing his talent with tedious craftsmanship to finally finish a masterpiece.

What has been a paradigm for ages started shifting not so long ago. 20th century brought a range of breakthroughs questioning the status quo and bringing new tools. In 1976 the ultimate creator’s tool was born: the Apple I. Nine years later Andy Warhol repainted his Campbell’s on Amiga 1000. The rest you know well – few years later we had Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Avatar and The Life of PI.

But are Andy Warhol’s early digital images from 80’s so much different than manually painted masterpieces? Surprisingly – not so much. That’s because for Warhol Amiga was a replacement of a brush, but the principle remained unchanged. In contrast, earlier 20th century art trends from Dada through surrealist techniques  to Jackson Pollock‘s action paintings in 50’s and even Warhol’s screen-printed artworks achieved something more profound – they changed the process and embraced randomness and variation.

What is Generative Design?

If you were a painter, how many masterpieces could you paint in a row? If you were like me you’d soon start optimising. And that’s exactly what the ancient masters did having their students paint and supervising the process only to sign the final. Here we come to the merit.

It’s not about the tools. It’s about the process.

21st century established the culture of hacking. And so Generative Design hacks the process and changes the role of an artist: instead of creating singular artwork, an artist creates the tool and tweaks the parameters in a feedback loop. Once done, the tool creates entire class of designs or artworks.

Generative design is a design method in which the output – image, sound, architectural models, animation – is generated by a set of rules or an algorithm, normally by using a computer program. […] Typically, generative design has: (1) A design schema (2) A means of creating variations (3) A means of selecting desirable outcomes. Wikipedia 

Generative Art vs Generative Design

Generative Art and Generative Design have quite a lot in common – in both cases the output is created by the external system (tool). However, while Generative Art leaves the output to the machine and initial set of rules or parameters, Generative Design puts the artist in control – so you design the tool, set initial rules and parameters and tweak them until a desired outcome is produced.

So how does it look like?

Generative Design is an approach and the proces. The results vary and deliverables or products include a wide scope of things – from rich interactive data visualizations through films, animations, graphic designs, illustrations, posters, to visual identities, art installations, fractal art, products, buildings and jewelry… anything.

Back to Pollock with Open Frameworks

So even if Warhol’s screen prints and Pollock’s action paintings were not pure examples of generative art, certainly they possessed qualities present in generative art and helped generative art and design emerge. But we’re back to Pollock and possibly it’s not only me seeing him as one of pioneers of generative art.

Jeremy Rotsztain’s Action Painting (2008-2011) is a series of still and animated digital paintings paying tribute to Jackson Pollock style that uses moving visual elements from popular action films — explosions, fistfights, car chases, and gun shots — as compositional material. And it’s done using Open Frameworks, an open-source platform for creative coding.

And here with no doubt we can say JR’s works are fully legit generative pieces.

OK Google.

Is Generative Design an established approach or rather a geeky thing of computer nerds? Google Trends brings us interesting insight on the subject. Apparently, as far as Google memory spans, there were no serious peaks in the popularity of the field.

Looking geographically, looks like Germany is the capital and as long as I’ve been aware of the thing, these were mostly German studios doing majority of the work in the field. Certainly, a credit is owed here to onformative for their enormous contribution to the popularize generative design.

I got to know onformative thanks to their Unnamed Soundsculpture which I found accidentally doing research on particle data visualization and motion capture for Rebirth


As much as Generative Design is an established field of study and has been used within the context of art projects, products design and architecture, I has not made it to the mainstream yet nor did it make a serious impact and there’s huge potential to it for communications design, marketing and advertising.

One of the fields that actually makes a solid use of generative design is data visualization, particularly interactive data visualization which has been getting more and more popular across the last few years. Communication often needs to talk figures and over the past few years the visual quality of presenting data has significantly improved.

Why Generative Design?

Communication, advertising design and branding are all very often in a need for tools to deliver the right message in a concise and fresh manner. Applying generative approach to creating better communication brings a lot of good things.

Visual language that stands out.

Huge part of the advertising design is negatively affected by generic stock photography which left a tremendous footprint on the industry. While many brands reach for stock photography in their communications, even those who actually create bespoke brand imagery very often suffer – that’s because stock photography have set an implicit benchmark and industry standard. So even custom visuals are very often (even if indirectly) compared to stock images and created in a way that follows stock standards.

Creative and emerging imaging techniques can make a significant difference helping set your brand or campaign apart of the competition – just by using well crafted stories backed with distinct visuals. Generative art and design perfectly fit into this category favoring novel aesthetics. And yes, many examples will come in the following articles.

Better communication for conservative industries

There are certain industries where communications standards are well set and rebeliance is not very welcome. Finance, insurance, health, security, just to name a few. But these sectors very often talk figures and that’s where generative design and carefully crafted data visualization can make a difference and are certainly justified.

What’s next?

So we just opened the Pandora’s Box of Generative Design and we’re barely scratching the surface. Keep an eye on us (sign up here) as we plan on getting more into details in the upcoming articles.

Whether you already use Generative Design in your work or just learned about it – give us a shout, share ideas and let us know what’s particularly interesting for you.


Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1948, Oil on Canvas.

Jackson Pollock - Action Painting, 1948

Apple One - 1976

Andy Warhol - Campbell's, 1985

Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry using ProPaint on the Amiga 1000.

Jeremy Rotsztain, Action Painting (2008 - 2011)

Jeremy Rotsztain, Action Painting (2008 – 2011)

Unnamed Soundsculpture. Short film by onformative studio for generative design.

AS-PHYX-I-A, Experimental project using Xbox One Kinect for motion data capture, Maria Takeuchi.

Generative Landscape. R&D work for a generative short film, Kizny Visuals.

Fractal explorations, Kizny Visuals

Fractal explorations, Kizny Visuals

Fractal explorations, Illustration by Patryk Kizny, Kizny Visuals

Trapped, an illustration by Mat Zdziebko & Patryk Kizny, Kizny Visuals

Curiosity-driven visual artist holding diverse skillset across digital imaging, visual communication and marketing. Head of Kizny Visuals.