Some thoughts on parametric design, NFT art, and mathematics. Also bunnies.
Last January, I visited Las Vegas Nevada on a business-trip to a tradeshow that one of our clients invited us. The tradeshow was the “World of Concrete” convention, which was attended by companies in the concrete construction industry, and was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The tradeshow was huge, the convention center was huge, and the city was overwhelmingly chaotic. However, as I looked at things a little deeper, I reflected more on the idea of how parameterization might work in a designed environment.
The city is a strange mix of odd contrasts and cultural appropriation. I stayed at The Linq Resort near the central Strip. As we explored the area, I was struck by how each casino and tourist destination created fantasies of places like Paris or Rome, but in over-the-top ways. These contrasted with the street-life itself and the casino gambling machines. Designed images are everywhere, with seemingly little relation to where they were placed in the environment. Many of these images were on huge LED screens and signage, which are all over the city and sometimes as large as the towering buildings themselves. It is like a cartoonish stereotype of some kind of dystopian cyberpunk dystopia (and I suppose it actually is).
In order to compete with the bright lights, even the banal must be decked-out in neon and video screens. The Target store on the Strip, as well as the convenience store was as decked out in lights and video as the rest of the shops and resorts, attempting to compete with them visually.
When considered as a whole, there seems to be some kind of underlying logic while at the surface one would think that the chaos was the result of random choice. There is an odd unity to these discordant displays. I think the rules defining the street signage creates that unity. These are over-the-top, yes, but that seems to be the main defining parameter. In many cities, there are codes which define things like how signage looks, so I imagine that Las Vegas is no different in that regard. It’s just that the building codes are designed to intentionally overwhelm the senses.
The convention too, was also a mashup of styles and displays — though industrial and blue-collar in aesthetic. The aesthetic choices of each company represented created another sort of unity in the chaos. Each booth, juxtaposed to each other, related to each other as well. Many of the exhibits were grouped together thematically or in specific types, such as the software companies and the equipment manufacturers.
It seems that taken together the design of parameters can create more of a cohesive environment when one considers the need to maintain some unity and identity while at the same time allow for independence. The element of chance does seem to be at play here too, contributing to the overall tapestry of influences, and then makes the overall experience unique.
Design by Parameter and Pattern
My work has often involved viewing design as a matter of setting parameters in which the unpredictable can happen has been one of my methods. It is not new. Other designers have presented work in which chance occurs in serendipitous ways, mostly as a means of giving up the need to control and explore work that is more free. It seems common in design to think that their our creativity is constrained by the need for control, or that it is too regimented, stale, etc.; when in reality, those constraints allow greater opportunity for creative problem-solving and expression.
What I am attempting to do is to really understand the parameterization, and rather than just give up control to “simple” chance, to instead cultivate the parameters and curate the results. It is not a process without control, nor is it one that is really examining the idea of control vs. chance in and of itself. It is in what is being controlled, and really trying to understand the underlying patterns that generate the results.
The second feature of the work I have been doing is to identify underlying patterns in what seems unpredictable, and then to try to understand the rules (parameters) of what creates the pattern. And by pattern, I don’t necessarily mean the literal pattern in a specific design such as a repeating wallpaper pattern. What I have been striving to understand is the “why” of a pattern which gives order to that which might seem to be chaotic.
In generative art, the process is to set up mathematical rules that the script follows to create the visual art. The artist, then, is more of a curator of the results. Profile-picture non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are also considered generative art, but of a very different process. With many NFT projects, the idea is to design the objects within each piece, and then let the script combine the objects according to traits (more parameters) that will determine rarity of traits and the possible combinations. Then, they are “minted” as unique NFTs with metadata that is stored on a blockchain network. Either way, the role of the designer is to set up the parameters, and then let another process and/or chance (chaos?) to take over and create the artwork.
A big part of my explorations have involved re-learning my math skills, and learning new ones. In that effort, I have enrolled in some online courses and have been working on exercises to sharpen those skills. One of the things I have learned about math that really never connected with me in high school is that the Greeks moved away from considering mathematics and numbers as concrete entities toward thinking of math as abstract representations rooted in geometry. This resulted in deep observations that have informed design today, such as employing the Fibonacci series into graphic design grids.
This makes a lot of sense — I never had thought about this much in my younger days when I took algebra and trigonometry in high school. If I had understood this, I probably would have done much better.
Geometry really does find its root in observing patterns in nature and in defining parameters to construct forms. All other maths can be represented in terms of geometry as well. This means that when designing parameters for design, I am working with mathematics in some visual way where the abstract ideas can be represented in form, whether aware of it or not. (Euclid’s Elements: Thirteen Books Compete in one Volume).
Interpreting the world and representing it in code requires a fairly high level of mathematical skill. I have done it more instinctually since learning to program at the age of 12, but in the case of creating generative art, I need to understand math at a more formal level.
As a theme of mine, the need to understand the underlying logic and patterns of what I am working with and having a grasp of mathematics again is a key skill to develop. I used to find it drudgery, but I have since re-framed the task in my mind. Doing math is much more about seeing the pattern, thinking through a problem geometrically, and viewing the whole task as a kind of puzzle or game. I find myself more motivated thinking about it this way.
As I launch forward in developing a thesis topic, these have been some of my meandering ideas. I would be interested in hearing from the Medium community what your thoughts here are too!
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