Moonflower Sagaya Ginza

MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza: A Unique Fusion of Culinary & Digital Art

MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza, nestled in the heart of Tokyo, Japan, is a distinctive dining concept brought to life through the collaboration between Sagaya, a luxury restaurant renowned for its seasonal cuisine and "Saga Beef," a prestigious Wagyu beef brand, and teamLab, a globally recognized art collective. This intimate dining space, accommodating only eight guests, is adorned with a permanent digital art installation by teamLab, crafting an immersive atmosphere that harmoniously merges gastronomic delights with interactive digital art.

The ethos behind MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza is to curate a dining environment where art and delectable seasonal dishes coexist. The interior of the restaurant presents an ideal amalgamation of food and art, with interactive digital art installations showcasing trees and flowers that bloom across the dinnerware, evolving with the seasons. This unique dining experience is further enriched by the use of Nigoshide porcelain dishes from Sakaida Kakiemon XV and a variety of traditional Japanese art, including Arita ware from the Meiji Era and Riso porcelain by its 4th generation heir, Shinji Terauchi.

The digital art installation, named "Worlds Unleashed and then Connecting," is a central element of the dining experience. As each dish is served, the world encapsulated within the dish is released, unfolding onto the table and into the surrounding space. The worlds released from each dish interact with each other, respond to the actions of the diners, and merge to form a single, continuous world that is in constant flux.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRJTRcfGmAk

The MoonFlower Dinner Course, limited to eight guests per day, is a 12-dish menu centered around the theme of "Transforming high-quality seasonal ingredients into delicious dishes." The ingredients used vary with the changing seasons, with new course dishes being designed for each season. This, coupled with the interactive digital art, creates a multi-sensory experience that blurs the boundaries between the tangible and intangible, offering an unparalleled fusion of food and digital art.

MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza is more than a mere restaurant; it's a unique dining experience that redefines traditional dining norms. It's a realm where imagination knows no bounds, where guests can savour exquisite dishes while being immersed in a world of interactive digital art. This extraordinary dining experience is a testament to the innovative possibilities that can be realized when culinary art and digital technology converge.

Images via teamLab

Azulik resort

Azulik Uh May: An Architectural Ode to Sustainability and Nature in Tulum

In the heart of the Mexican jungle, Azulik Uh May stands as a remarkable embodiment of sustainable architecture and the profound bond between humans and nature. This extraordinary cultural complex, conceived by Eduardo Neira, also known as "Roth", the founder of Roth Architecture, symbolizes a harmonious blend of sustainability, artistic expression, and communal spirit.

Situated in Tulum, Mexico, Azulik Uh May is a resort that effortlessly merges with its natural environment. The architectural design is inspired by the principles of biomimicry, a discipline that seeks to solve human challenges by emulating nature's ingenious solutions. The resort is designed to coexist with nature, not to dominate or damage it, thereby aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The design of the resort harmonizes modern and ancestral elements through organic and spiral forms. The spaces respect the inherent characteristics of the location, echoing the wisdom of nature. The complex is characterized by fluid shapes: spiraling walkways lined with bejuco vines and secluded nooks that invite visitors to explore barefoot. The design breaks away from traditional architectural norms, with no right angles to be found.

sfer-ik-uh-mau-6

The central gallery, IK LAB, is a manifestation of Roth's vision to create a reflective space where art and nature intersect. Living trees sprout from openings in the polished concrete floor and extend through tunnels suspended from the ceiling. When it rains, the openings in the roof channel water directly to their roots, fostering a unique interplay between the built environment and nature.

Azulik Uh May transcends the conventional definition of a resort; it's a cultural hub that houses an innovative art space, a design and fashion lab, a cutting-edge recording studio, and artist residencies. At the core of the center, a school dedicated to the universal language of art and craft unites the local Mayan community, resident artists, international students, and scholars.

The resort's dedication to sustainability is not limited to its architecture. During construction, the original topography of the ecosystem was preserved, with the architectural structures virtually hovering over the ground on a system of piles and platforms. This approach minimizes disruption to the ground ecosystem, further underscoring the resort's commitment to environmental preservation.

Azulik Uh May is a testament to the transformative power of sustainable architecture and the deep connection between humans and nature. It's a place where art, nature, and human creativity intersect, offering a unique, immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of traditional resort design. This architectural wonder is not just a place to stay; it's a place to connect, to discover, and to be inspired.

> Roth Architecture
> Azulik
> Sferik
Images via Roth Architecture

Nagami X Ecoalf

Nagami & Ecoalf: Sustainable Retail Design with 3D-Printed Interiors

In an era where sustainability and technology intersect, Spanish design brand Nagami and sustainable clothing brand Ecoalf have collaborated to create a unique retail space that embodies their shared commitment to eco-friendly practices. The Ecoalf store in Las Rozas Village, Madrid, is a testament to the power of innovative design and recycled materials, with its interior almost entirely 3D printed from recycled plastic.

The store's interior, designed by Nagami, is a striking visual representation of a melting glacier, a metaphor for the urgent issue of climate change. The walls, shelves, and display tables are crafted from 3.3 tonnes of repurposed plastic waste, primarily sourced from hospitals. This plastic has been transformed into translucent surfaces that mimic the appearance of melting glaciers, creating a unique and immersive shopping experience.

Nagami X Ecoalf

Nagami utilized a robotic arm equipped with a custom-built extruder to 3D print the complex forms that make up the store's interior. This innovative approach to design and manufacturing not only highlights the potential of 3D printing technology but also serves as a powerful statement on the climate crisis. The undulating forms that cover almost all of the store's internal surfaces pushed the robotic printing technology to its limit, demonstrating the potential of this technology in creating unique and sustainable designs.

Nagami X Ecoalf

The Ecoalf store is the first fully 3D-printed interior completed by Nagami, and it may be the first in the world to be fully 3D-printed using recycled plastic. This project was completed in a remarkably short lead time of just three months from design to installation, showcasing the efficiency of 3D printing technology.

The design of the store goes beyond aesthetics, reflecting the ethos of both Nagami and Ecoalf. Both companies are committed to sustainable manufacturing practices. Ecoalf creates clothing, footwear, and accessories using recycled materials, including plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, used tyres, and post-industrial wool and cotton. Similarly, Nagami uses recycled plastic in a closed-loop production process to create furniture, sculptures, interiors, and architectural elements.

The store's design also ensures that the materials used can be disassembled and reused or recycled for future projects. The plastic itself is almost infinitely recyclable, losing just one per cent of its structural performance with each new use, according to Nagami.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smPHPCbGFko&ab_channel=Ecoalf

Ecoalf store in Las Rozas Village, Madrid, is a pioneering example of sustainable retail design. Through the innovative use of 3D printing technology and recycled materials, Nagami and Ecoalf have created a space that not only provides a unique shopping experience but also raises awareness about the importance of sustainable practices and the urgent issue of climate change. This project serves as a powerful reminder of the potential of design and technology in creating a more sustainable future.

Nagami X EcoalfNagami X Ecoalf

> Nagami
> Ecoalf
All photography is by Alfonso-Quiroga unless otherwise stated.

Unraveling the Complexity: The Interwoven Threads of Spatial Design Disciplines

As someone who has dipped their toes into various aspects of the design world, I can confidently assert that these disciplines are akin to living organisms, constantly evolving, adapting, and changing to meet our needs and the demands of the world. We live in an era where rigid boundaries that once demarcated different professions are gradually morphing into mere suggestions. Consider my journey as a multidisciplinary designer, where I’ve navigated smoothly from graphic to yacht design, treating them as stepping stones in a stream.

Today, we find ourselves at an intriguing crossroad in the world of space design. In my preceding article, “Something Spatial”, I delved into what spatial design is and how it merges multiple disciplines, from the physical to the digital and even mixed reality. In this article, however, I will set aside Extended Reality (XR) and roles involving digital spaces and interactions, such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR). My focus will be on traditional and emerging disciplines that deal with physical spaces, including interior architecture, interior design, environmental design, and of course, spatial design. These are no longer stand-alone entities but integral components of an interconnected archipelago, each taking cues from the other, enriching and expanding their practices.

Transitioning between design roles and amalgamating diverse tasks has never been an issue for me. The challenge arises with a highly specialized industry and the increasingly niche roles we encounter today. As an educator in interior and graphic design, I’ve encountered many students who bear misconceptions about what the field encompasses.

It’s vital to demystify the roles and comprehend whether certain titles are merely grandiloquent labels aimed at distinguishing some designers from the pack. I also discern that certain “new” roles are essentially rebranding of existing disciplines, albeit with a focus on new domains. This can be bewildering for both clients and students trying to discern roles and responsibilities. However, if there is an authentic opportunity to carve out a meaningful specialization, I’m all for it.

Interior Architecture

Let’s commence with interior architecture. I’ve encountered numerous architects who have a longstanding disdain for this term, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Architects are responsible for the comprehensive design of buildings, including factors such as structural integrity, safety, functionality, and aesthetic appeal, encompassing both the building’s exterior and interior. The interior consideration for end users is paramount. Hence, the term “Interior Architecture,” which many use to refer purely to the functional aspects of interior space, can be misleading, especially when interior considerations are already part of the architectural discipline. Some employ this term to distance themselves from interior design, presumably because it conveys a loftier status. However, this is a misconception.

Interior Design

Interior design has often been conflated with decoration or styling, which is likely why many interior designers engaged in technical work prefer the term “Interior Architect.” Interior design is a complex field that goes beyond mere aesthetics. It involves the creation of functional spaces that consider people’s relationship and behaviour within these spaces. It encompasses technical planning, refurbishment, installations, and styling. Therefore, styling is just one facet of the interior design role. An Interior designer is a certified professional, while a stylist, who is tasked with defining the appearance and creating the look of the space, doesn’t necessitate certification.

There are indeed specializations within the interior design industry. While an interior designer possesses broad knowledge to develop an interior design project, they can further specialize depending on the project’s requirements. Some professionals specialize in styling, technical development, lighting design, kitchen design, bespoke furniture design, and so forth.

Blurring the lines between architecture and interior design merely for distinction is, in my opinion, misguided. Both fields have their unique attributes, and they can thrive symbiotically in diverse projects. They should each be acknowledged for their distinct contributions.

Environmental Design

Then, we have environmental design, a term that merits a clear definition. Some use it interchangeably with spatial or environmental graphics, referring to the overall experiential and atmospheric design of a space. This extends beyond mere graphic interventions, weaving together various design elements like spatial configurations, lighting, materials, colours, textures, and graphics to craft immersive, cohesive experiences. It necessitates a multidisciplinary approach, fusing architecture, interior design, graphic design, and other creative disciplines to shape the mood, brand identity, and narrative of a space.

Conversely, environmental design is also viewed as a discipline that amplifies the principles of spatial design to contemplate our broader ecosystem. It explores the environmental impact of our buildings and spaces, and investigates how we can mitigate this impact through sustainable practices.

Equating environmental design with spatial graphics could be misleading due to varied interpretations of the term. Spatial graphic design is a discipline unto itself, covering a wide range of graphics deployed in space, hence the term seems more appropriate (I’ll be writing an article about it very soon). Considering sustainability and environmental impact is now imperative for any designer. Just as lighting designers possess a deeper understanding of lighting than interior designers or architects, an environmental designer, equipped with extensive knowledge about the subject, can play a pivotal role in large projects and even offer consultancy to smaller studios on environmental and sustainable considerations.

Spatial Design

Lastly, we arrive at spatial design. This relatively new discipline is not merely about creating spaces; it’s about curating experiences. It links architecture, landscape design, and interior design, honing in on human interactions within spaces. From bustling cities to the smallest room in your house, spatial designers investigate how spaces influence our behaviour, emotions, and even thought processes. User experience is a fundamental part of any design job, so is there a need to extricate it from any discipline as a specialization?

As I detailed in my prior article, spatial design feels more like a field than a specific role in a project, as it encompasses multidisciplinary roles all around the Space — spanning physical, digital, and mixed reality spaces. It includes interior designers, architects, landscape and environmental designers, spatial graphic designers, and AR, VR, MR designers. It’s such a broad spectrum that simply calling someone a “spatial designer” seems vague.

All these disciplines are becoming increasingly intertwined, much like threads in a tapestry, signifying our progression towards a more unified, holistic approach to space design. In this paradigm, aesthetics, function, psychology, and the environment are all considered in one comprehensive sweep. The blurring of roles and the fluid transition between fields can often be beneficial, as it fosters dynamism and versatility among designers. However, as we have seen, adopting trendy new titles without a clear purpose or defined specialization can lead to confusion. We need to be precise about roles and their responsibilities to provide designers with clear objectives and areas of study. This will foster true collaboration as experts in their respective areas without overlapping tasks.

The cross-pollination of disciplines, where designers have clear tasks and objectives, can foster a multifaceted perspective of space design. This, in turn, leads to more innovative, sustainable, human-centric, and aesthetically pleasing spaces. And ultimately, isn’t that the goal we are all striving for?


Something Spatial

Since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by space and its aesthetic appeal. As a child, I would evaluate places I visited, pondering whether I liked them or not. I would constantly decorate my room, adding new items, creating themes, and hanging posters. Sharing a small room with my brother made efficient use of space essential. It had to look cool, but functionality was equally important, considering the numerous belongings we had in that tiny area. Everything, from furniture to wall decor, bedding to how we interacted with the space, was part of the whole.

Becoming an interior designer seemed like the natural path for me, despite initially studying Business & Economics. However, once I began my program, I realized that interior design alone was somewhat limited. Space was influenced by numerous elements beyond layout and FF&E selection. Surface design and environmental graphics played crucial roles as well.

If you’ve read my first article, “How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, you’ll know that even before completing my Interior Design Diploma in 2000, I started delving into web and graphic design. While computer games existed earlier (which involved 2D and 3D virtual spaces), it didn’t have a true interaction with the real world. The internet emerged as a new portal by connecting people together, a digital space in need of shaping. Interestingly, that year, while taking a 3D Max course, my teacher, aware of my keen interest in new technology, introduced me to VR. He said, “You have to take a look at VR; it’s the next big thing.” That was 23 years ago, and while VR didn’t take off, I continued my journey in digital and web design, a path I haven’t strayed from. During this time, we have experimented and created what we now know as the internet space — a digital 2D version of traditional print media, but with interactivity and connectivity.

When discussing space, we typically refer to physical environments. We’ve also encountered and experienced digital space through screens and technologies like VR, AR.

If you’re not an astrophysicist, have you ever wondered what space truly is?

At its core, space refers to the extent and dimensions in which objects and events exist. While we often associate space with three dimensions — length, width, and height — there are instances where it can be represented and understood in a two-dimensional context. Thus, space can exist in both 2D and 3D forms.

In a 2D space, objects and events are defined by their position and relationships within a flat plane. Surfaces such as canvases or sheets of paper serve as platforms for representing drawings, designs, or plans. Graphic design, for instance, employs 2D space to arrange elements on posters or design webpage layouts. It’s worth noting that even in 2D representations like drawings or paintings, techniques like shading, perspective, and foreshortening create an illusion of depth, conveying a sense of three-dimensional space.

In contrast, 3D space incorporates depth, enabling a more immersive and realistic representation of the physical world. It accurately reflects how objects exist and interact, accounting for height, width, and depth. Spatial concepts are essential in 3D design and architecture, enabling the creation of realistic renderings, architectural models, and virtual environments. Interestingly, to create 3D, we rely on 2D space to define layouts, composition, and more. Interiors and graphics go hand in hand without us even realizing it.

In a broader sense, space serves as the backdrop for our experiences and perceptions, acting as a container for everything that exists. It facilitates movement, interaction, and the presence of various elements within its boundaries. Whether it’s the space within a room, the gaps between objects, a vast landscape, or a blank canvas, understanding space is crucial for comprehending the relationships, arrangements, and dynamics of the world around us.

Spatial design encompasses the practice of creating and shaping environments, focusing on the arrangement and organization of physical spaces. It involves strategic planning, layout design, and the consideration of interior and exterior spaces to optimize functionality, aesthetics, and user experience. Spatial design factors in spatial flow, ergonomics, lighting, materials, colors, and textures to craft harmonious and engaging environments. This multidisciplinary field spans areas such as architecture, interior design, and urban planning, among others. The goal of spatial design is to create spaces that are visually appealing, functional, efficient, and conducive to desired activities or experiences.

Although Spatial Design is a relatively new discipline, it surprisingly overlooks the digital realm. As we’ve seen, the definition of space extends beyond physical spaces and tangible objects. Technologies like VR and AR enable the seamless merging of physical and digital worlds.

vr headset
“The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory technology. Introduced in 1962 by Morton Heilig, is considered one of the earliest virtual reality (VR) systems.” Wikipedia

Let’s delve into the realm of digital space.

VR and AR have been around for some time now, and most of us have a basic understanding and have experienced them in various ways. Virtual Reality design focuses on creating fully immersive digital environments that users can explore and interact with. VR designers utilize spatial design principles, 3D modelling, texturing, lighting, and others to construct realistic virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality (AR) design involves overlaying digital information or virtual objects onto the real world through a screen, usually a smartphone. AR designers seamlessly integrate virtual content into the user’s physical environment, enhancing their perception and interaction with reality. AR design finds applications in fields such as education, marketing, industrial training, interior design, and navigation systems.

But what happens when we combine VR and AR? This is where Mixed Reality (MR) design comes into play. Mixed Reality combines elements of both virtual and augmented reality, enabling users to interact with digital objects while maintaining a sense of presence in the real world. This blend of realities is currently where the battleground lies — not in the Metaverse. Meta’s new headsets, Quest Pro and Apple’s Vision Pro, take the game to a whole new level. These headsets enable users to interact with virtual objects in their physical surroundings. MR design finds applications in interactive storytelling, immersive art installations, collaborative design, industrial simulations, and many others.

Extended Reality (XR) encompasses the creation of immersive experiences in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR). XR design combines elements of traditional design disciplines with interactive technologies to craft engaging and transformative experiences for users. XR design involves careful consideration of spatial layout, interaction design, visual aesthetics, and audio elements to create compelling and realistic virtual experiences. It also intersects with other design disciplines such as user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design. XR designers focus on creating intuitive and user-friendly interfaces, smooth navigation, and meaningful interactions within virtual or augmented environments. They consider factors such as user comfort, ergonomics, accessibility, and feedback mechanisms to ensure a seamless and engaging XR experience.

Considering this new paradigm, how do we define Spatial Design?

Spatial design can be defined as a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the organization and arrangement of spaces to create meaningful and functional experiences for individuals across physical, digital, and mixed reality environments. Spatial designers consider the interactions between people, objects, and the surrounding environment to optimize the functionality, aesthetics, and user experience of a given space.

With the advent of XR technology, AI, real-time projections, motion trackers, and more, physical spaces must adapt to integrate virtual objects, UI displays, and other digital elements. Likewise, current UI designs must adapt to physical spaces. Regardless of the environment, whether physical or digital, designers must aim to create environments that are functional, visually appealing, and optimized for human experience. By considering factors such as layout, aesthetics, usability, and the integration of technology, they play a critical role in shaping the way we interact with and experience our surrounding environments, both in the physical world and the digital realm.

Spatial design now requires a focus on spatial mapping, interaction design, and seamless integration of virtual and physical elements to create cohesive and immersive mixed reality experiences. This can be seen in applications such as architectural visualizations, interactive art installations, virtual training simulations, as well as educational, retail, and gaming experiences.

This is all Something Spatial.

With the advancements in XR technology and AI, designers can now visualize and test design concepts more effectively, simulate user experiences, and create immersive and interactive environments that were previously unimaginable. This new realm of physical and digital blend, experienced through immersive presence rather than a mere phone screen, opens new doors for interior and graphic designers. A new type of designer is needed — one that understands space, volume, composition, UI, UX — Spatial graphic designer. It’s a path that aligns perfectly with my profile, and it seems my career has been leading me toward it.

For a while now, I’ve had the idea of creating a platform where we can discuss and learn about innovation in spatial environments, spanning from physical to digital or mixed reality. Ranging different fields from interior design, environmental graphics to interaction design or user experience, showcasing top-notch projects. Welcome then to Something Spatial.


Revolutionizing Creativity: The Impact of AI on the Creative Process

In this article, I want to address a highly sensitive topic in the design industry. The term “creativity” has been trivialized to a great extent, with many using the word for work that doesn’t deserve such recognition. On the other hand, it has also become somewhat of a sacred concept.

There are numerous definitions of creativity, but I personally resonate with the one provided by Linda Naiman:

“Creativity is the act of transforming new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is characterized by the ability to perceive the world in novel ways, discover hidden patterns, make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, and then producing. If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.”

The creative process encompasses ideation and execution then. When we, as designers, talk about creativity, are we genuinely referring to these two elements working in harmony? When we develop a new brand identity or design the interior of a restaurant, are we creating designs that possess unique aesthetics and provide value to the user and client?

In my previous article, “Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field”, I discussed how designers fear for their jobs amidst the AI frenzy. AI can undoubtedly excel at execution, as designers have been engaged in automated tasks based on established frameworks and templates. However, what about the ideation stage?

We often take pride in asserting that machines cannot compare to human creativity, don’t we? Well, it depends on how we define creativity in the design field. One of the common complaints I hear and read from designers about AI is copyright infringement. Frankly, it makes me laugh. Let’s be honest here. One of the most prevalent “creative” techniques employed by designers to develop a design proposal and execute a project is seeking “inspiration.” In reality, it entails searching for images on platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble that align with certain aesthetic and functional criteria based on the project type and client’s requirements. Subsequently, a “mood board” is created, which essentially amalgamates images from other people’s work to form a foundation for the design proposal. The end result often involves copying and pasting details from various sources.

There are various factors that contribute to the widespread practice across studios and designers in all fields. I can empathize to some extent as the industry is mainly influenced by business-related issues, such as the undervaluation of design for many years and insane project deadlines. But this practice is also related to the talent and skills required to create something truly new, which is undeniably one of the most challenging things in the world. Therefore, I don’t blame anyone, but we need to engage in self-criticism.

revolutionizing creativity
“In 1959 Xerox introduced the 914 model, the first plain paper photocopier. The product was sold by an innovative ad campaign showing that even monkeys could make copies at the touch of a button” Wikipedia. Photo via xeroxnostalgia.com

When we claim that AI is merely copying someone else’s work to create something new, aren’t designers already doing the same? Can you design something entirely original without any prior reference? If you can’t, why do you point fingers at AI when it follows the same creative process as you? Nothing is created from scratch, and we require previous references to generate new ideas. The problem arises when designers fail to study, analyze, and evolve from these references or the work of others. Evolution necessitates building upon previous steps to progress. The problem arises when designers merely scratch the surface, copy, and apply without delving deeper. The same applies to the use of AI. If you are simply searching for an illustration similar to one by Banksy, you can certainly do it. The same goes for designers without AI if they are asked to replicate a certain style. It’s up to us to explore alternative approaches or remain superficially fixated on requested styles. However, we witness how fashion brands copy one another, architectural firms imitate each other, and interior design firms repeatedly produce similar results while justifying their decisions based on market research or business plans. It frustrates me to see how every café and bar in London looks identical. But hey, I get it. Businesses prioritize numbers over creativity. If they know of a successful restaurant, they will try to replicate it.

El Bulli restaurant, under the leadership of Ferran Adria and his team, spent ten years being the most innovative restaurant globally and had very few clients. When they gained popularity as the best restaurant in the world for several consecutive years, everyone began to imitate them. Now you can’t visit any high-end restaurant without encountering an emulsion of something.

What AI demonstrates is that creativity can also be learned and synthesized as an algorithm. However, we can choose to treat it as a mechanical process devoid of critical thinking, or we can adopt a workflow with specific steps that allow us to exercise control over the process while simultaneously engaging in analytical thinking and generating new ways to create based on existing work. That’s where humans truly add value.

As a multidisciplinary designer, I have had the opportunity to design countless and many different types of projects, and the creative process followed the same steps across all fields. In addition to my professional design activities, I also serve as a tutor, lecturer, and researcher for an Interior Design program at West Dean College in London. My area of specialization and lecture focus is concept design and the creative process. I teach my students to think before putting pencil to paper. They must be clear about what they want to communicate, why they want to communicate it, and determine in advance which elements will help them achieve their goals. When I initially started working with students, I noticed that around 95% of them struggled to create something from scratch without turning to Pinterest and copying existing work. Through years of experience, deep reflection, and meticulous analysis of the creative process, I have managed to develop a methodology for concept design. This methodology consists of three stages, each with specific steps that students can follow to create various forms and shapes based on a given brief. They engage in research, case studies, and a conceptual approach, among other aspects. It has been proven that students now possess control over the process. They are aware of the points where they encounter difficulties and can take appropriate actions to move forward. Certainly, it requires thorough explanations and an understanding of the steps, but it indicates that the process can be systematized, similar to an algorithm. Therefore, can AI undertake the entire process by itself?

What AI can do is replicate the automated tasks, copycat creative process, and produce an image based on multiple sources. Essentially, this is what most designers do today — defining keywords as concepts, curating, composing, and producing a final result. AI can accomplish this in seconds. This is when a designer that doesn’t produce real creativity, is no longer indispensable.

However, AI falls short to engage in a genuine creative development process that involves critical analysis, design thinking, and maintaining true control over the message it intends to communicate through the design. We, as designers, must possess that capability. Developing skills of critical analysis, design language, problem-solving rationality, communication, and a graphical eye to convey 2D graphics or 3D volumes is essential. AI requires our guidance as creative and art directors to create meaningful final designs. This creative process is time-consuming and extremely challenging to achieve, but it represents authentic design and delivers high-value outcomes. It elevates any design project to higher standards. We can embrace AI to assist us in discovering new creative approaches and exploring design proposals now that we no longer need to spend time on automated tasks. Let’s use this time for a meaningful purpose.

It doesn’t matter if we produce a design with paper and pencil, with an iPad, or with AI-generated images. How we produce is no longer relevant, but the thinking is. I always start my Concept Design lecture by saying, “Design is a thinking discipline.” As anything in life, when we think and act, we have control, but when we let others act for us, we’re doomed. The same applies to technology.


Designing the Future: How AI is Reshaping the Design Field

We have all been bombarded with news about AI through various media channels by now. Countless online videos showcase the outstanding capabilities of ChatGPT, Midjourney, or Stable Diffusion. Each new version makes the previous one seem like a joke. Missing just one week of news feels like a lifetime because of the exponential growth of new AI apps and capabilities. Many articles and opinions discuss the dangers of AI, from suggesting that it will take all our jobs to concerns about incorrect information and copyright infringement. People here and there assume that this insane technology will be the end of the world, making us all puppets in its hands.

But how will AI realistically impact the design industry in the near future? Will our job change drastically or disappear completely?

Let me provide some personal history to provide context. I consider myself a multidisciplinary designer. It’s a fancy way of saying that I work across various design fields, including graphic design, surface design, digital design, interiors, and even a bit of furniture and yacht design. I graduated in Interior Design back in 2000, during the rise of the Internet era. Joining my Interior Design School opened up a new world for me, and I took additional courses to learn from Graphic Design and 3D software to HTML and Flash. I wanted to do everything because, for me, design is interconnected. Unconsciously, this is how I became a multidisciplinary designer. Before completing my Diploma, I secured my first permanent job as a Digital and Graphic designer. Since then, I have moved across different design roles, gaining insights into how these fields work.

The Internet was a gateway to a new world, and things were changing rapidly. Back then, I read similar negative things about the Internet as I do now about AI. Everyone was talking about this thing called the Internet that had tremendous potential and would change the world, but not many people had a home connection yet (remember internet cafes?). Businesses believed that websites were merely digital catalogues of their activities, and they weren’t entirely wrong. It took many years for the Internet to have a real impact. Broadband, social media, HTML5, smartphones, and more transformed the world. Websites like Napster or Myspace opened the door to many other things that shapes our daily day. Internet and technology (hardware, connectivity, software, etc.) have changed the world for better and for worse in many aspects such as workflows, social interactions, economy, and more. Now, we can’t imagine living without it. The current AI situation reminds me of the journey of the Internet during the 2000s.

Things don’t change drastically from one day to the next; it usually takes time to develop new ways. Design jobs have been evolving since computers became prevalent. I’m a big fan of Mad Men (by the way, the best show ever), and if you don’t know about it, what are you waiting for? The show revolves around a charismatic advertising creative director in the 1960s. There’s an episode where they introduce a computer the size of a room, and the staff reacts to this disruptive machine. It’s quite similar to our current situation. With the digital revolution, designers transitioned from handcrafted work to digital design.

designing the future
South Foreland Lighthouse, Kent (UK), became fully automated in 1969 and the resident keepers were transferred to other lighthouses as they were no longer needed.

Designer jobs and workflows have been gradually changing. Many design jobs from the past are no longer needed, but many new ones have emerged. “Old” designers possessed skills that are no longer required, and we have acquired new ones. If we take a look at the current design landscape, we can see the emergence of roles that were completely unknown before the Internet, such as UI and UX designers, product designers, content and social media specialists, ecommerce experts, SEO professionals, and online marketers. It’s quite remarkable.

We make many assumptions about AI without fully realizing our historical context and the direction in which we are heading.

Let’s make an effort to reflect on ourselves as designers and how our work has evolved over the past 40 years, particularly in the last 15 years. We have become more specialized designers, working with countless software tools, and achieving drastically reduced production times with even better results. We have become increasingly reliant on technology, with software taking on many of our tasks.

In terms of workflow, we have reached a point where many tasks are already based on frameworks and templates. Platforms like Wordpress and Envato have transformed the industry by eliminating the need to create designs and projects from scratch. For designers, it is more productive in terms of cost and time to download and customize existing templates. In some cases, depending on the budget, it may be as simple as applying a template directly.

From a creative standpoint (this topic alone warrants a full article, which I may cover soon), as graphic designers, we utilize software filters and plugins to create visual designs. We do not develop these filters ourselves; software developers provide us with the tools to apply our personal touch. We watch online videos to learn how to recreate effects created by others. We use platforms like Pinterest, Behance, or Dribbble to gather images from various sources for “inspiration”. This copycat creative method is prevalent across all design fields, allowing designers to curate, select, copy, and apply design elements based on trends, marketing requirements, and client whims. Additionally, tools like Canva enable anyone, regardless of design expertise, to create images and videos for their media content.

This is the realm where AI is poised to take over because we have established a system that relies heavily on templates, software, and a copycat creative process, which can be easily systemized by an algorithm.

Where are we heading as designers then? Each design field has its own unique characteristics, but we can expect some general trends and changes in the future.

We stand at the threshold of a new revolution: AI. As a multidisciplinary designer, my journey reflects the evolution of design in the digital era. From handcrafted work to the revolution of digital tools, designers have witnessed a gradual transformation. AI threatens to automate these processes, challenging designers to adapt. But history has shown that evolution is inevitable, and human creativity remains irreplaceable.

As AI takes over repetitive tasks, designers will assume new roles as creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The value lies in providing creative direction and overseeing the production work. While AI may change the landscape, it will not eliminate the need for designers. Photographers and videographers have experienced similar shifts, and their profession has not vanished; it has evolved. Likewise, designers will need to refine their skills, harnessing their eye for detail, understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. They will become specialized in creating images with prompts, offering unique perspectives and tailored services. Let’s reflect on the impact of AI on various design fields.

In graphic design, AI algorithms can generate designs based on given parameters and predefined templates. However, the ability to translate client needs, conceptualize ideas, and evoke emotions through design remains a distinctly human skill. Designers will excel at providing strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and interpreting client objectives into visually compelling solutions. AI can support designers by automating repetitive tasks such as resizing images, generating color palettes, or analyzing data to inform design decisions. This symbiotic relationship between AI and designers will enhance efficiency and elevate the quality of design outputs.

In architectural and interior design, AI can assist in the creation of conceptual designs and generate various layout options based on functional requirements. However, the artistry of crafting spatial experiences, considering human factors, and capturing the essence of a place remains within the designer’s domain. Designers will embrace AI tools to streamline tasks like 3D modelling, rendering, and material selection. With AI’s assistance, designers can explore more design iterations, optimize energy efficiency, and simulate real-world scenarios to inform decision-making. The role of designers will shift towards orchestrating the integration of technology, sustainability, and user-centric design principles into captivating built environments.

Moving to product design, AI can aid in rapid prototyping, simulation, and material optimization. Yet, the ingenuity of conceiving innovative product concepts, understanding user needs, and crafting intuitive interactions rests with the designer. Designers will leverage AI to augment their design thinking process, employing data-driven insights to inform user research, anticipate market trends, and iteratively refine product designs. The human touch will remain essential in infusing emotional appeal, cultural relevance, and usability into products that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.

In the realm of fashion design, AI algorithms can generate garment designs and predict trends based on vast datasets. However, the designer’s expertise in understanding fabrics, draping techniques, and tailoring will continue to be invaluable. Designers will collaborate with AI tools to streamline pattern-making, fabric selection, and supply chain management, empowering them to focus on creativity, storytelling, and crafting unique fashion identities. The human touch will remain vital in creating garments that evoke emotion, celebrate individuality, and reflect cultural narratives.

Beyond specific design disciplines, AI will reshape the creative process itself. Designers will increasingly collaborate with AI systems, co-creating with algorithms and leveraging AI-generated insights to inspire their work. AI tools will serve as creative catalysts, helping designers explore new possibilities, break creative boundaries, and overcome creative blocks. The iterative nature of AI can enable designers to rapidly experiment, evaluate design variations, and refine their ideas. This collaboration between human and machine will fuel a new era of design innovation.

The future holds diverse business models, allowing designers to choose their path based on personal aspirations and market demand. Some designers may establish specialized studios that harness the power of AI to deliver personalized design experiences and cater to niche markets. Others may focus on integrating AI technologies into traditional design agencies, leveraging the strengths of both to create impactful solutions. Additionally, designers will need to adapt to new ethical considerations and ensure AI systems align with values such as inclusivity, fairness, and sustainability.

In summary, the role of designers will evolve to become design managers, creative directors, curators, and visionaries. The required skills will include a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of visual language, composition, and design principles. Designers will need to evoke emotions and create unique user experiences that reflect cultural narratives and celebrate individuality.

AI undoubtedly disrupts our current design workflows and it will redefine design roles, freeing designers from mundane tasks and empowering them to focus on creativity, strategy, and human-centric aspects of design. Designers will leverage AI as a powerful tool to enhance their creative process, generate insights, and deliver tailored solutions. The future of design lies in embracing AI’s potential while staying true to the essence of human creativity, craft, and empathy.