“Probably no product designer wants to make the world worse by polluting the environment, promoting social inequality or ruining companies with its products. Nevertheless, it can happen. So, what if there is a software that shows you the effects of real-time design concepts – and how the design would change in favour of various sustainability factors?” That’s how Nina Kirst summarised our idea for the PAGE theme special “AI and Design”.
Our basic idea behind Solid Impact is to simulate the impact of a design on economic, social and environmental aspects. Specifically, we focused on the issues material efficiency and costs, recyclability, carbon footprint, potential for conflict and product life cycle. Many data for this are already prepared or accessible via interfaces.
The power of the plug-in for the CAD program SolidWorks, with which we create daily drawings and 3D models, is therefore in the databases of manufacturers, retailers, NGOs or even the World Health Organization. So it’s not about generating new data or replacing the designer in the design and development process, but about the holistic view of the product to be developed. “In a networked world, AI reduces systemic complexity: the creative decision remains with the designer,” Karel emphasizes.
“If you want to optimize one of these aspects, you can use a toggle to create a new simulation: If you shift the slider in favor of material efficiency in a chair design, Solid Impact proposes a new design with four instead of five parts. If you put more emphasis on recyclability, it shows the option of a chair made of just one piece.” What Nina Kirst describes here is the intended designer’s user experience. What if I used more sustainable materials, what if my design met the highest standards of recyclability? And most importantly, what would that look like?
We strongly believe that it is not up to the designer or the inadequate briefing, when a design is bad for the climate or contributes to social inequality, but is often a decision out of lack of alternatives. Neither the customer nor the studio has the time to calculate and weigh all alternatives. A plug-in would allow us to make conscious decisions based on real options. We can still choose the desired aesthetic, but at the same time we know the price we are willing to pay for it.
Why is the program not running on all computers yet?
Primary, because in detail not all data is processed yet and freely available. The sovereignty of manufacturers and suppliers is a stumbling block, as is its applicability to a variety of product designs. The benchmarks that are creates for furniture manufacturing are not the same as for a medical device, and countless options become available.
But there are first signs of progress in this segment at various universities and research institutes, so we hope everybody will be able to make a much more targeted decision in the near future.
This concept was first published in the PAGE theme special “KI und Design“. There are also more articles on the subject.