The Cyborg Designer

C. McComb

2015, International Conference on Engineering Design

Designers perform phenomenally well in tasks that involve creativity and insight - tasks that are typically unfeasible for design algorithms. However, design algorithms excel at tasks that are tedious and time-consuming for human designers, such as searching graphs, accessing and parsing large amounts of information, and optimizing mathematical functions. This complementary relationship is typically exploited by providing designers with computational tools that can be accessed at will. However, designers tend to become “set in their ways”, relying heavily on previous solutions and well-known methods. This is especially true of expert designers and can hinder the adoption of new computational tools, leading to potentially non-optimal solutions. I will outline my vision for a future in which human designers are seamlessly connected with computational design agents, thus becoming part of a cyborg design system. My current research creates multi-agent design algorithms that may eventually form the backbone of such a system. In much the same way that robots resemble humans to operate efficiently in human-centric environments, computational design agents must be capable of interfacing with the design ecosystem as human designers do. As agents parse emails and design specifications, listen to conversations, and make sense of photographs and sketches they will not only be learning about the current design project, but learning the preferences of the designers that they work with. Based on this data agents can perform a host of support tasks, such as providing relevant analogies for consideration, recommending technical modifications to designs, and suggesting aesthetic design improvements that are aligned with a designer’s personal style. Although computational design agents will exist as cloud computing artifacts, they will monitor and interface with designers through a variety of wearable, mobile, and desktop products. In short, my vision for the creation of a cyborg design system will remove self-imposed informational constraints, allowing human designers to efficiently focus on what they’re best at: creating the world around us.