Saturday, September 5, 2009

KRAM/WEISSHARR: Embedding Intelligence

This is my second post about a designer I like, this time the design duo of Reed Kram (Representing Columbus, Ohio!) and Clemens Weissharr. Their office, KRAM/WEISSHARR, was founded in 2002, with locations in Munich and Stockholm. I first saw KRAM/WEISSHARR’s BREEDING TABLES at the MoMA this past winter during my co-op at Kaleidoscope.

KRAM/WEISSHARR on the BREEDING TABLES: “In this project their approach towards intelligently intertwining product development and media design, while taking advantage of the newest technological possibilities, is paradigmatically outlined. The product of BREEDING TABLES is tables — not a single one to be copied, but an indefinite number of different tables. With BREEDING TABLES the designers bid farewell to the idea of designing one product to be mass manufactured as a reproduction of the original prototype. In fact they have developed a process that allows for the production of a multitude of individually different products — tapping the full potential of current production technologies. The projects of KRAM/WEISSHAAR stand for a new form of integrated product and process development — and thus for a new way of thinking design.”

The part about “intelligently intertwining product development and media design” is most interesting to me. After exploring their site a little, I found that KRAM/WEISSHAAR use a customized program to generate the virtually infinite number of configurations for the BREEDING TABLES. They may have training in creating their own design tools like this one, or they may work in conjunction with software developers; it’s not really important. What IS important is that they’ve figured out a way to automate some of the mundane decision making in their design process in order to focus on higher-level priorities.

Any piece of design lives within a series of constraints, and it is these constraints that give meaning to the design and often guide the design process toward some solution. The beginning of a design process usually revolves around identifying these constraints (sometimes called problems) in order to give context against which a solution can be evaluated. In the case of the BREEDING TABLES, KRAM/WEISSHAAR have programmed their constraints into a piece of software that does some of the thinking for them (the metal parts can probably only be bent to a certain degree, for instance, and the table’s weight should be centered between the legs). You can see in the video that as a certain parameter, like table height, is modified, the other dimensions update dynamically according to all the constraints they’ve given the software. The designers have thus offloaded some if the task of designing onto their software in a practice called embedding intelligence, something I am reading about in Richard Ogle’s Smart World (a book review will be in a later post). The concept of KRAM/WEISSHAAR’s software actually thinking for them (the same way a slide rule helps us solve a trig problem) comes from Andy Clark’s idea of the extended mind, and how a lot of our thinking and being creative actually takes place outside our head.

Embedding intelligence into their custom design software, KRAM/WEISSHAAR are free to focus on more subtle things like the silhouette of the table from the front and side views. By developing their own software, they have also multiplied their ability to create something unique, much like Johnny Greenwood favored his own programs to using software that 1000’s of other musicians might be using to make sounds. So, next time you have to knock out 200 sketches for Tony Kawanari… how cool would be if you could randomly generate 1000’s of sketches based on a few constraints, and then use your training as a designer to select the best ones?

1 comment:

John Ariosa said...

are you alive? where are you man?