Computational Design as an Empowerment - Lysandre Follet

Computational Design as an Empowerment - Lysandre Follet

09, March 2021

Hasn’t the thought of artificial intelligence replacing our jobs as designers always haunted us? It is time to realize that technology is not to be threatened but rather to be acknowledged and used smartly.

“The present and future lie in the hands of those who are capable of problem-solving across different fields,” says Lysandre Follet, Computational Design Director of Innovation at Nike. With 9+ years of experience at Nike, he has also founded companies like MiniGorille and Jadoo. With a vast skill set, he specializes in product design, industrial design, design strategy, concept development, product innovation, fashion, and footwear. An enthusiastic orator, he is also the winner of the 1st prize in 2008 Design awards and Gold prize 2008.

As an Innovator, Leader, and a Lifelong Learner, Follet narrates about the intersectional approach he took while solving problems. Indeed, Design itself is multidisciplinary and is interlinked with Art and Science. The same applies to Music which requires principles of Mathematics, Physics, and Sensorial experiences. This encouraged Follet to develop a synthesizer using gamification to bring a unique relation.

Through one of his groundbreaking innovations, he explained how patenting it became an intellectual property of the company. Fanboying over James Bond movies he recreated the artifacts in the movie into a series of 3D collectibles again taking aid of software for the same.

“Computational Design is Industrial Design with a radical method of using computers to empower rather than as a tool.”

Instead of “Deep Remixability” which is combinational creativity and “Bricolage”, exploratory creativity between virtual and physical forms, he advocates transformational creativity, where there is no discretion between virtual and physical, rather a transformation of the dimension of the structure unless it is hyper-realistic. As he demonstrated in the design of his ‘Modular Nook’, in which one can perform all activities of a typical work from home lifestyle, be it work, sleep, yoga or entertainment.

We must learn from Chessmaster Garry Kasparov who besides being the first to be defeated by the computer in chess abandoned being threatened from it and chose to play with the computer as a team opposite another team of humans and computers. Further, we should consider what Lee Sedol, the Go Mastermind said when he got defeated by the computer program AlphaGo, the moves of AlphaGo which might appear creative to us were actually conventional.

This indicates human creativity and computer data processing can make a perfect intelligent combination. Since the goal of Computational design is not to document the final result but to create steps required to create that result, Nike used Computational simulation to detect the pressure of every particular point in feet so as to create a shoe inspired from the ocean plankton. This plankton’s outermost shell had a meshed structure that kept it both lightweight and sturdy while locomotion, exactly what was the demand for shoes. Hence, they used technology to study the organism, not merely aesthetics but to record the architecture, and ultimately designed a range of shoes varying on the basis of utility as in short or long distance races or different sports.

This product brought 45 medals at the Rio Olympics. Of course, other than computer simulation for testing they tested on real athletes. It was made possible by following these steps; data collection, translation of problems into computable parameters instead of just building a product, using the tool to its fullest in terms of generation of an algorithm, exploring design space as in, varying the constraints to make variations of same products and curating design space.

Innovating for customization has always been a major challenge which was also the ideology of Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike. Increasing digitalization is a pioneer in customization which aids in building tools instead of products. We should have faith that what might sound crazy today will be possible tomorrow as manufacturing will be agile to build bespoke products.


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