by Dilpreet BhullarJun 27, 2023
Nature inspires innovation and stimulates creativity. It comforts and consoles, welcomes all, in groups or alone, to come and interact, or simply meander. Natural scapes are the original Commons, where a lack of barriers and boundaries helps unshackle the restrains otherwise thwarting imagination. While sustaining a dwelling on foliaged hills, expansive valleys, along gliding brooks, or within organically moulded cavernous nooks is not feasible for everyone today, adorning our man-made habitations with objects and aesthetics that serve as reminders of the scents, vistas, and attributes of nature is both plausible and recommended, for a better quality of life. Biomorphism, then, helps pave the way for the design of natural-looking objects. It is an art movement that first originated in the 1930s, and that encourages the imagination of design elements and forms such that they bear a semblance to shapes, forms, colours, and textures oft found in nature. In alluding to the aesthetics of nature, designers succeed in creating things and configuring spaces that help suffuse the calmness apparent in unsullied environments.
UK-based architect, artist, and generative designer, Filippo Nassetti, recently developed a series of eyewear designs that comply with biomorphic attributions. Created using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence program that responds to textual prompts with images, the AI eyewear series by Nassetti draws cues from various natural elements. While some pieces mimic the visage of honeycombs and butterfly wings, a few bear semblance to the textured surfaces of rocks and caves. Several other pieces, with their esoteric attributes, inundate the mind of the viewers on the one hand and register familiarity on the other. A few other entities that the eyewear pieces bear semblance to include biorock accrual, ferrofluid, corroded metal, biological and mineral microstructures and fibrous architecture. In gaining inspiration from metallurgical objects and artificial processes to build the eyewear collection, Nassetti showcases the graceful melding of natural and artificial elements, an allusion to the beauty of the synergistic existence of nature against man-made entities.
Nasetti intends for the eyewear pieces to function either as everyday eyewear, as masks, or as sculptures. He has, over the years, researched on different kinds of headwear, masks, and eyewear. This recent series of conceptual designs is the convergence of learnings from previously conducted research and experimentations. In using an artificial intelligence platform to develop the designs, Nassetti enabled himself to explore a wide range of concepts and ideas, without the restraints inflicted by production processes. “In eyewear design, a distinction between lenses and frame is generally axiomatic: you start the design by thinking of them as separate. AI productions instead blur the boundaries, patterns appear that beautifully merge parts in a continuous whole. Instead of reading it as a mistake, this can be taken as a starting point for a radical re-thinking of the product," the product designer shares.
In an attempt to better understand the concepts, processes and future plans for the AI Eyewear series, STIR established contact with the designer.
Almas Sadique: What is the inspiration behind the AI Eyewear series?
Filippo Nassetti: The project is a continuation of my research on generative design, biomorphism and wearable products. When I started experimenting with AI, I was intrigued to see how it could extend and augment the design sensibility and production I developed over the last 10 years. I then decided to focus on the generation of concepts for eyewear design, a brief that is related to my previous work, yet different, looking at natural and biological forms as reference for the design of new visual languages, as well as a semantic pool for engineering the prompts.
Almas: Describe your experience of working on the project.
Filippo: The main design activity was that of curating the Midjourney flow and selecting a set of images that would be individually compelling, as well as meaningful as a collection. Striking the right balance of similarity and variation was one of the concerns. While doing that, I experienced a rich flow of reflections, trying to make sense of the new tool and its productions. There is this idea of meditating with AI which I find fascinating: a deep thinking on a design subject, a brief, a visual concept, facilitated by the flow of images and words of text-to-image AI.
Almas: What is the scope of turning these designs into physical products?
Filippo: The possibility of turning the AI images into physical products has been and is for me one of the main objectives and research questions. I don't believe there is currently a workflow to directly integrate AI productions into the state-of-the-art design workflows, based on the development of 3D models and their control systems. Objects still need to be built from scratch in 3D, identifying the right structure and parameters that are relevant to adapt and evolve the design, step after step, down to production. However, the concept design phase can be widely expanded and enriched by the use of such tools.
Based on the experience of the AI Eyewear concepts, I have been developing in parallel the design of a yet to be named eyewear, characterised by eroded forms, that is being prototyped as we speak and will be finished in the coming months. The experimentation with AI was crucial for its ideation, however, a specific visual language and 3D modelling technique had to be developed with more traditional tools such as Rhino and Grasshopper.
Almas: How does this project align with your characteristic style and ideation process?
Filippo: The project aligns with the culture of experimentation I have been supporting since the beginning of my independent activity. The brief and visual languages also resonate with my previous work and research interests. It is important that this project is understood as a conceptual exploration, a speculation over the possibilities brought by the new tools: the images are strong and are showing a direction, however, they are also limited by the fact that they are only images. Working with 3D models, and turning them either into physical products via digital fabrication, or digital assets to be explored in digital spaces, remains a core aspect of my design approach.
Almas: Describe your experience working on Midjourney.
Filippo: The speed at which you are able to go through a vast number of ideas is impressive, I believe the tool is very able to expand our natural imagination. The challenge I see for the future, will be how to match such velocity with the workflows of design development, from 3d modelling to the production and refinement of prototypes.
Almas: How do you intend to make use of artificial intelligence in future projects?
Filippo: I will surely continue to work on eyewear and wearable projects, researching generative design and biomorphism, as well as experimenting with the newest tools and technologies for design. I am developing an eyewear (yet to be named) at the moment. There are also a few more projects in the pipeline. More likely than not, experimenting with text-to-image AI to enrich the concept design stages of future projects is something which is going to stay in my practice. Moreover, there seems to be a growing number of tools that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to perform a variety of tasks relevant to design applications: from image editing and upscaling, to the generation of simple 3D models. Even if less flamboyant than text-to-image AI, they are valuable assets to know and integrate in the day-to-day design processes.
AI is definitely one of the hottest trends at the moment, and surely it will have a growing impact on the way we design products and art pieces and experiences, even though the specifics of that are still very unclear: what is going to stay after the bubble of initial excitement bursts; if that's a bubble. I will keep following, while having a critical eye.
Almas: Tell us about the prompts used on Midjourney to create these designs
Filippo: Most of the prompts follow the structure:
[ eyewear/sunglasses ] made of [ material specification ] , [stylistic specification]
A few examples:
"sunglasses made of ferrofluid, photorealistic"
"eyewear made of plastic microstructures, photographic"
"sunglasses made of dark corroded metal, photorealistic"
"dark sunglasses made of fibres in a generative design pattern, photographed from the front, biomorphic design, photographic"
Curious to understand the process, we at STIR experimented with a few prompts on Midjourney. Here are the results: