PRISM: Generative Design Is about to Change Everything with Joanna Peña-Bickley

Generative Design has been a hot topic of conversation for several years now, but its full range of capabilities, and how designers will use it in their everyday lives, isn’t widely understood. In this episode of PRISM, Dan Harden sits down with the head of HumanFX Research & Design for Alexa, Joanna Peña-Bickley, to get an inside look at this field of limitless possibilities.

Also known as “the mother of cognitive experience design,” Joanna foresees the role of the designer shifting from a creator of individual experiences to a conductor of entire systems of experiences. She also reveals how AI will generate truly novel ideas in a matter of minutes, solve global problems at a higher level, and change the way we consider the world around us. Designers interested in preparing for this remarkable future today should take note.

This episode also touches on: 

  • Designing for a “one size fits many” model
  • Designing with more resiliency for future generations
  • The new organic aesthetics, form factors, and ergonomics on the horizon
  • The parameters we must establish today around this evolving technology


Joanna Peña-Bickley is a design technologist and pioneer in AI-aided design. She is head of HumanFX Research & Design for Alexa devices at Amazon, board chair and design fellow at Design Corps, board member of Earth DNA, CEO of the Cognitive Experience Design Foundation, and the host of the Designed By Show podcast.




Dan Harden 0:02
Hello and welcome to PRISM. PRISM is a design-oriented podcast hosted by me Dan Harden. Like a glass prism that reveals the color hidden inside white light. This podcast will reveal the inside story behind innovation, especially the people that make it happen. My aim is to uncover each guest’s unique point of view, their insights, their methods, or their own secret motivator, perhaps that fuels their creative genius. Joanna Pen a Bickley is a design technologist and pioneer in AI-aided generative design. She is regarded as the mother of cognitive experience design, Joanna wears multiple hats and currently serves as head of human effects research and design for Alexa devices at Amazon. Joanna’s imagination and visionary executive design leadership has resulted in work that has been internationally awarded and used by millions of customers. She is fueled by a mission to design magical inventions that work for everyone, everywhere, and every day. So I am really pleased to be talking with you. Thank you for joining us. And let’s just have kind of a casual conversation about what you do and how you do it. Let me start with and good morning.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 1:17
Good morning to you too. Thanks so much for having me. It’s an honor. That’s one heck of an intro. I certainly appreciate it. It actually started to as you continue down below it Well, I’m a little long in the tooth. But I still, here’s what I’ll tell you how long in the tooth but still skipping into work every day.

Dan Harden 1:33
So speaking toward that generative design, everybody’s starting to talk about it more, it is one of the fastest-growing areas of design. I think you could say it’s about the marriage of design and artificial intelligence. But can you explain for our listeners, more in lay terms? Yeah, what is generative design?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 1:53
So let me talk to you a bit first about the purpose, then I’m going to give you just the most laid term definition. We’re going through a time of intense automation. generative design is actually automation in the iterative design process. And so whether you are designing software for your iPhone, for a website, or even, you can look at it from animation, right? We’ve been actually utilizing generative design and animation for years. architectural models, sounds, images, there are lots of permutations of what we design, right, and how it manifests itself. But it is generally the automation of an iterative process, but it’s a little bit more it’s an Intelligent Automation. If we think about it, when we first started in our careers, certainly I did, you know, the design was being revolutionized by just having a desktop computer, we were moving from drafting boards like that, and actually sketching things out to computer-aided design. And now what we are saying is the intelligence applied to that computer-aided design in a manner that understands the parameters because, like all designers understand, we are problem solvers. Right? Put the technology aside for a second. As designers, we’re problem solvers. And in that problem-solving process, sometimes we carry along biases, actually, often we carry on a ton of biases. And so if you are bringing in data sources, to the design process, which we do today, they’re just manual, most design process, they’re still using I consider user experience as a very traditional design practice, because it’s still bringing subjective information and data points in when you want to be objective. And so what this allows the designer to do is balance the objective with hard data and science, right? And bring in our art and skill to that science. It’s actually the marriage between art and science. So in very layman’s terms, generative design is the Intelligent Automation of our of our design tools. And what does it output? Right, I think that’s the important thing. What is it output the output, particularly when we think about hardware design, right if you’re an industrial designer, is if I, for instance, you know, have a data model of 95% of the global population’s ears, right? I might be able to come up, utilizing my generative design tools, the right one to simulate how my design will perform in the real world, right with levels of confidence. That’s number one. But number two, the second step is once you move past the simulation, it begins to offer concepts, design concepts, hundreds of design concepts that typically would have taken me months to do into minute shortening things that used to take us months, the concept phase down to minutes and it’s doing this iterative machine learning right off Have these data models in a way that it is actually producing new form factors for me to consider. And what makes it exciting for me is that opens me up to be procured out of the machine, right to, to look at the concepts and actually be ultimately the best creative director that you can be. Because you’re going to want to not look at 100 things, you may be wanting to start narrowing down to what is the best form factor for fit or the components that you have, or the actual costs that you are constrained by. So the beauty of this is, Is this justice, we have constraints in real life, right? We have the constraint of costs, that constraint of time, because stream of available materials and our supply chains, those are things that you can input into the system into a generative design tool. And then what you get the output is what the machine believes are designs that would fit within those constraints. One of those constraints that I have been so focused on is the human body. Because the reality is, is that we actually have well-documented constraints for things like architecture, you know, space modeling, even software. But when we talk about things like creating wearables, new, right, net new products, to be able to put in the constraints of the human body, which each one of us is built individually, it’s actually the hardest thing to do. And so I’ve really made it like a mission

Dan Harden 6:26
like an ergonomic reference model. And that’s, I mean, that’s data.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 6:31
That’s absolutely data. As matter of fact, I use the example of in the car industry, yeah, sure, actually been utilizing data that is roughly 70 years old. And not and not always reflective of people and how they actually sit or fit into a car. The same can be said, if you’re a fighter pilot, you know, these things were built with maybe humans who are a little bit smaller. And so you feel a tight squeeze into cabins and cockpits like that, right? The first thing that you ever want to do is that you want to understand your human population. And when you’re trying to create a product, that is a one size fits many, right, you want to try to get as close as you can, with as much confidence as you can, to 95 to almost 100% of the general population, and this is on earth. So what does that mean? Means that designers actually need to get off their tushes, and they need to go to the outside world, right? collect that data, bring that data, and model it. So in my case, what we did is we went out to the world, and we collected three-dimensional data on ears, because I happen to work on the echo buttons product. So you go out there and you collect that data, you bring that data back in, you model it in 3d space and time. And you use that as a primary constraint to machine learning models.

Dan Harden 7:55
Now, that doesn’t go ahead does how. So from there? I mean, it seems like for producing a data Foundation, generative design is good, but with the word generative, how does it then generate from there from that data? Because it seems to me like you know, the design process, as long as I’ve been doing this, there are moments where I’m like, well, where the heck did come from there, this kind of unprompted bursts of insight and inspiration. Sometimes there’s this unrelenting curiosity that just drives a designer forward. And it’s sometimes completely illogical with generative design. How can it? Or do you think it needs to go more in that direction? Where it can sort of replicate what’s going on in our own brains?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 8:39
Actually, does I think that you have a misnomer. So many of us think that we’re so incredibly brilliant, yes, we were brilliant as a species. But we pretty much come up with the same ideas over and over and over again, let’s be really clear. If you watch TV today and just look at advertising for a second, you can see it, it’s clear, it’s a sea of sameness. There’s really great one on the sea of sameness of all the COVID ads that came out you went yeah, that’s creativity. And it’s best. Let’s be clear, is that you know, it let’s start with the generative design. It is mimicking the way that the brain works, right, just the way that most AI is trained to do. This is a narrow AI, right? It’s a narrow AI, it’s not a generalized AI. So a narrow AI is about coming in. And taking in inputs, one input might be body form, right? The next one might be the materials that are available to you. The output of it is 1000s of concepts, by the way, 1000s of concepts, half of which you could not have come up with and some of them that are radical and you go Hmm, that’s really interesting. I never thought about it that way. And in reality, Had you given yourself the time you probably would have and it does account for those things. So it’s not about spitting out permutations. Right? This it isn’t also, you know, it is only as great brilliant as the designer that is operating it with knowing how to which levers to pull, right? Which levers to input, right? Think about it from. And I just look at it because I’m so steeped in consumer electronics. But if you took something a little bit more simple and software, and one of the things that you’re seeing generative design and do is revolutionize things like layout, right to be able to layout creators, well, there’s only so many permutations that the grids going to give you, if you’re using a 12 point grid, and getting you know which colors but if you put in all the constraints of your brand, what the machine can do is actually output hundreds, if not 1000s of concepts for you to start select from. And they’re pixel perfect.

Dan Harden 10:44
Yeah, on layout, I can see that now what about on more complex systems like that are so influenced perhaps like, as an industrial designer, I think, you know, sometimes you get your ideas that are, you know, maybe influenced from when you were a kid, and how you’re interacting with something or someone and it’s just this this this beautiful human interaction or observational skill that you may have? How does it account for things like that, or things like cognitive embodiment, you know, like being informed by being a physical being in an environment where you are touching, feeling and understanding what’s going on around your we’re generative design? How does it account for those kinds of idiosyncratic aspects,

Joanna Peña-Bickley 11:27
it’s a data point that you put into the system. So for instance, if I’m building a house for cold weather, and all the things that I needed, those are the constraints that you would have to build in anyways. And that is simply sitting as a data point, most of these things have been automated for years, within the trades. So if you are in architecture, if you’re in construction of any kind, these are things that are built into your AutoCAD, right, what we’re doing is there is algorithmic the cord, and taking in those inputs in order to get the right outputs. But I’m going to give you a really great example, one of my favorite examples of this is actually one that is by Autodesk and is in the automotive industry. And in that particular way, they are essentially building a race car. But it’s supposed to take you know what it’s supposed to have the aerodynamics, to help it gain a little bit of lift, because it is a race car that’s supposed to be in mountainous areas, one of the things that you realize that what it is, is one of the inputs, right? You can you start with a baseline of something that maybe inspired you many things, and then you work from there, it isn’t dissimilar, it is still, you know, you still have to put those inputs, but the beautiful thing of it is actually started to look like biomimicry. What does that mean, more natural uses of the material, right, are actually starting to look like a flying squirrel. And sometimes if you look at the skeletal, the skeletal outline of a flying squirrel, and then you looked at this vehicle you went, huh, that’s pretty remarkable, right? That it’s that you’re saying? Well, we, you know, I’m sitting outside our Da Vinci, the most one of the most, you know, best things that he did was see a leaf twirling and there became the helicopter, right? Machine has the capability of taking in those environmental aspects, and actually outputting more natural, more human solutions, than sometimes we’re capable of making. And sometimes they’re more elegant, because it doesn’t just put them out, you have to refine it’s a process, right? Think about it, this it’s an iterative design process that involves a program that generates a certain number of outputs to a certain number of those constraints. And the designer fine-tunes that just as we’re fine tuning, you know, we used to sit with an eraser and fine tune our ideas, as we got more information by kind of selecting which things you’re going to change in those input values. And, you know, you essentially, I’m sure you’ve heard of things like GaNS, right? And so it’s a really great example of this is again, right, and so the machine is getting to learn over time. And what it’s doing is retaining those learnings. And so just as a designer learns to refine and program, right, that iteration and the even the iteration of the design goals become further defined over time. Well, the machine accounts for that. And so what you know, when I go back to, you know, algorithmic design, generative design is about an iterative process of automation, but utilizing data intelligence, right, infuse, what those inputs are, and what you get is really remarkable outputs, which are products, you know, and new ideas. Once I have often looked at it, and I, you know, I step away because I think like we as designers are control freaks, and we think we’re the most brilliant people in the world. Step away from your ego for a minute. Humble yourself because a really good designer humbles themselves and says, I’m prepared for people to vomit on my invention and prepared for people not to accept it, and when you do that, you go wait might I have an assistant, a design assistant I consider, you know, the kind of generative design and have it’s not taking my job offer? In fact, it’s it’s making the mundane portions of my job more palatable. Because I’m able to retain Yeah, right, I’m able to retain where we’re going.

Dan Harden 15:21
I wanted to drill into that, because I’m guessing a lot of listeners are thinking, Oh, my God, you know, is my job threatened here moving forward in the future?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 15:28
Let me start with this. It is if you don’t sharpen your skills,

Dan Harden 15:31
Yeah. So what I’m hearing is, it is a tool. And as a designer, you can design what you were describing before as the levers, if you are designing the levers, and controlling the input and helping to design that software, then maybe you can bring it closer toward a solution where you can feel as a creator part of it, and it has simply helped you. Yeah. and make it hopefully, more universally appealing to the end-user.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 16:01
That’s right, what I would tell you is that it’s always an extension of you, just like our computer was an extension of us. This is an extension of us. And I think one of the things that makes the design even more intelligent over and over, right is in your, in the definition phase of what you’re doing not to stop defining the data inputs. So often, we think, Oh, we’re gonna do all this research at the front, and then stop that research, and then go make the product, but you should be feeding in new data inputs, as the world is changing, because the world changes every day, and your design needs to adapt with it. And what it allows you to do as a designer, is actually keep up with the world.

Dan Harden 16:41
Does it make your design a little more clinical?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 16:46
No, in fact, it comes up often with solutions that are not as right-angled as we’d like them to be. And I’ll use that generative design piece. If you just if listeners go and google Autodesk generative design, what you will find is they make them more organic, and often the structure of something feels more like things that are in nature.

Dan Harden 17:12
Yes, I the best examples that I’ve seen, like NASA doing studies of generative design. They are biomimicry. Do you think it will influence a new perspective, a new style a new a new way of thinking about design as a result?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 17:28
I think so. And I think so for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with a new style. Thanks, styles, need to be adaptable to culture couldn’t agree more. And they’re often style of reflective of the culture you’re coming from. But one of the things I think is important, reinvent those styles in the world that we need today. Right? Not for fast fashion, or not for fast architecture, but things that endure things that are much more about a circular design, ones that aren’t going to produce harm to the world and to your communities.

Dan Harden 18:01
I think it’s a huge benefit for generative design to to get us to think more circular. But what you said there a moment ago about culture, can culture be programmed into generative design, I suppose it could just like any other factor, like you were talking about the human body culture is, one could say it’s a construct built on various elements that make us feel a certain way, when we see it, we feel more connected to our own culture,

Joanna Peña-Bickley 18:27
it is and one of the things that I have seen in computer vision over the years, particularly like traffic patterns, which was a really interesting one to take a study on, you know, there’s a ton of computer vision being utilized in the world of autonomous mobility. And in that space, you know, culturally, we move about the planet very differently. And those observations are being made today is you know, so you and I are speaking, you know, systems are banging, you know, who stops who doesn’t? And, you know, how do the red lights function? And how do people walk on streets, all of these things are being observed. They’re being observed in a manner in which its data collection, right? Today, one might consider that very much in a, in a scary state. But in reality, you know, when we start to look at things like computer vision, it certainly has its faults, when you start there is no silver bullet to it all. But it is observing culture, it is observing how culture is evolving, and how culture behaves. And the things though, that the designer still brings, are those cultural influences in the decisions that they make about the design, what is important and what is not important. And that still resides in the hands of a designer.

Dan Harden 19:39
So it forces a designer to be using a generative design process. I think you have to be more disciplined and think out of the box, be more systematic, and to think maybe more like a conductor would, where you have to be aware that there could be an emphasis of a piccolo But just the right moment I need to go program this element. What advice can you give to those designers that that maybe think more with their hands and see design more as a craft and something to be kind of explored in a less systematic way? And I think a lot of designers are very linear in the way they think. And maybe that’s not so great, certainly for creating these more sustainable bigger systems solutions that we need in the world today. How can we craft generative design to be maybe a little bit more digestible by designers that don’t think like software engineers, like for me to sit down like, Okay, I need to go ask us a programmer to help me with this aspect to get this answer that I want. You see where I’m going with this?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 20:46
Kind of, and here’s what I would tell you, I would tell you that craft isn’t just what you make with their hands, it is also what you make with your computer. This is right. It also requires an element of judgment in there what we believe is pleasing in aesthetic, and what are the affordances that you give, let’s say in software, for something to happen, where I would you know, where I preface this, that this is a craft, this is your craft. And if you’re really good at it, we’ve always had to orchestrate great design isn’t just the living, put my heads down and get the work done. Right, great design comes with the planning, right? The taking in the environmental factors, and then the actual production. And the actual production is still where the nitty gritty get you know, where the rubber meets the road, from a blueprint to, you know, here’s a, you know, a net new device, or a net new product or website, or a piece of architecture or an animation. And I actually point to musicians, some of the best musicians, pop musicians, r&b musicians today, are utilizing generative and new and inventive ways, as a part of their craft and evolution of their craft. If you never evolve your craft, then you’re in the wrong business. If you thought that, you know, I was going to color is only going to do stonemasonry this one way, at some point that you got to actually back up and go away. The way that I always colored things maybe isn’t the right way to do it. And it is about being a designer is about learning. Being a designer rate is about problem-solving. And you shouldn’t be approaching it the same way over and over. And you’re you know, you’re asking to write yourself out as a career.

Dan Harden 22:32
I love the way you’re you’re describing this. And it really should open everybody’s minds. As to there is another way that can make your design even better. I think it’s it’s similar to the transition we all went through when we were drafting boards to doing early CAD. And I remember the scorn that was all there’s no way you’re gonna be able to create, you know, good organic design. And then, you know, it evolved and evolved and companies like Autodesk proved that it was very possible with NURBS modeling. Mm-hmm. I see it as an opportunity. Do you think there are certain fields of design where this applies better more readily than others?

Joanna Peña-Bickley 23:11
I would, let me tell you, I would tell you that there are fields of design, they’re far in advance of other fields of design. So let me start with there are fields of design in architecture that are using this if you go take a look at Zaha Hadid, her first work that you know, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Zaha Hadid or your listener. So, of course, you know, do a Google she’s probably one of most brilliant architects and designers of I think the last century, you should put the BS of the swisslube RCA to shame they should have wanted to be her when they grew up.

Dan Harden 23:43
And so humanistic.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 23:45
Yeah, totally. And one of her signature styles, right was being the Queen occur, but it wasn’t necessary from the it was not from a style perspective, it actually came out of what made sense in the shape of Earth and what made sense in the shape of the way that it was going to be used. It was just better usage.

Dan Harden 24:05
structural load, that’s engineering. Absolutely. There’s beauty in that.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 24:11
And so with that, if you think about it, it’s the science and it’s the art coming together. Great design is those two things coming together, right? It is the design and the engineering that come together. And the act of designing is a verb. Let’s remember that. And we’re at a place in an inflection point whereas you know, as a craftsperson, you’re particularly within most of your fields, you are seeing this evolution happen for our very eyes. And I think one of the things that we’re really promoting, whether I’m at Amazon, or in the design core is upskilling. Right? To keep up and keep pace with the times that we live because the problems we’re solving are far more complex than what we were in the last century. We’re in midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, right? And in this fourth industrial revolution, we’ve just come through a pandemic. One of the things that, you know, that we are also seeing is a complete evolution of the way that we communicate through IoT. So that is everything and everyone will be connected. And that’s a pretty remarkable feat if we start to think about it that way. And then the next part of that is, you know, the way that we move around the planet, from autonomous mobility to planes, and, you know, trains, all of this is going undergoing a radical transformation. And what we know for sure is we can’t do it the way we did it the last 100 years. We actually have to be smarter about it, we have to put the earth in our communities first, and begin to think about the resiliency of humans. When we talk about human-centered, I say, throw that for a second, you need to be human obsessed. And so if you think about it, from that perspective, then to apply your skills in a new and inventive way, so that what you’re building is resilient for the next 100 years, is, I think, really critical for everybody in design. So yes, you know, is it impacting, I’d say industrial design in a major way right now, right. But we’ve been seeing this evolution in software for a very long time. And the blurring lines between voice design and natural language understanding. Designers have to know both right to survive or else you’re going to be relegated to making wireframes. And then the machine’s going to do it for you, as opposed to you actually, really producing the thought leadership and upskilling your talent in a way that allows you to produce more inventive things down the road better resilient.

Dan Harden 26:38
Right. Right. You know, I think we’re in trouble. The world? Oh, yeah. So and a lot of it, you know, I think designers, especially in the last century, felt like design and creativity, we’re going to create our way out of messes. And we boldly and egotistically went forward-thinking that way. And what we realized is we pretty much create a big mess. So I think we absolutely have to embrace generative design, in order to end this, I’m hearing a clear message from you that this could be a major contributor to helping with some of the major big systemic problems that designers aren’t very good at, quite frankly,

Joanna Peña-Bickley 27:17
no, no, no, we, you know, because we introduced by, we have biases about what we like and what we don’t like, because they’re all based on historic, right? Oh, we studied this in school. Right? So what if it makes it very hard to imagine forward? And what could be what should be?

Dan Harden 27:35
Not only that, I think designers are good at designing individual solutions to very individual problems and really good at designing this weird he’s good at designing the cell, but not necessarily the body, we don’t seem to care about the body. Yeah. And it’s, it’s about time and I don’t know if a single individual human brain has the capacity to solve some of these massive problems.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 27:57
no, and that’s why we look at the collective effort. You know, it look we are we live in an entanglement think about it from you know, in the last, in the last industrial revolution, we were amidst the enlightenment, we’re actually in the entanglement. Now, most of the problems that we face one are human, and two, incredibly complex. Why? Because, on one hand, humans don’t like to change their behavior. Let’s start there. They don’t fit

Dan Harden 28:25
We’re so full of biases. I mean, we all.

Unknown Speaker 28:29
So anything you can do, right to take a step back, say, is there something that helps me overcome that? And think about the system’s. Look laterally as opposed to through a silo? Right, I always say, linked, not ranked, that isn’t just in society, right? And isn’t just with, you know, in the women’s movement, but is in the way that we work, we can be networked, and think cleverly, versus in silos of industry. And I think one of the things that we have to do as communities is actually hold a higher standard, around linking the complexity of a problem, not in order to stop the solution. I think this is important. Talk about the complexity of a problem, talk about the complexity of what the challenges are, on, you know, water systems and in underrepresented minority communities, talk about those things, gather the data, and use that to build something new, and look to do it in your own communities and empower other people to design their solutions in their communities. And I think that’s one of the critical things is stepping back and taking our arrogant egos aside as designers and say, We will impose ourselves on society once again, the Earth is telling you something very different right now, which is I’m going to impose my society on you and if you are not resilient enough, it is so complex these problems of climate, that if you You’re not thinking in a systems way your efforts will unravel.

Dan Harden 30:05
Yes. Very, very profound. I couldn’t agree more. How do we move forward? Like for listeners? Yeah. I think they’re saying yes. A great. Got it. Yeah. But how can I enact this? It’s with generative design? Are there tools that are readily available? Absolutely. Etc.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 30:25
Absolutely. So let me give you a real quick tip to your listeners go to cognitive experience about Design, I actually list the way that I have trained myself, and there is no shortage of YouTube videos, what have you, let me start with what comes next. If you’ve decided that you’re ready to upskill us, you have to do the learning. And that’s the hard work, right? That’s the hard work of everything that you knew before, it’s time to go back to school. And in that, sometimes that school can be in front of a computer, right? Sometimes that school can be in front of a 3d printer. It is about using the collective knowledge that sits on the internet today, and moving past the BS that’s going on in social media and getting hyped up over that and actually focusing in on the solutions, because the solutions are sitting in front of you. And there’s actually a an enormous group of designers who have gone out and created if you just go to generative design one on one that actually produced videos and books and things like that. And so my advice to it was just actually let’s go about there’s, you’re not going to learn it in a day. Let’s set expectations, right? You didn’t learn to be a designer in a day, by the way, you probably went to school, some of us went to school. So some it was self-taught, and then that, and then that expanded over time, right? Well, we have to expect that same thing here. We’re midst at global a great global reset. And here’s your opportunity. Here’s the important thing for us American designers, I have news for you were behind during the pandemic while we were arguing about masks and political bullshit. Okay? The Koreans actually, this was one of the most brilliant things signed a digital New Deal. And in that digital New Deal, they decided with Singapore also was another country who did this, they were not only going to digitize their entire infrastructure and give everybody free internet, but access to upskill their skills while we were all bunkered down. So if you didn’t use your time in the, during the pandemic, to learn something new, you know, maybe you cooked bread, fabulous, then you should start a bakery.

But if you took time, you know, one of the things I did was actually I started to learn advanced data modeling, I went to a Code Academy, and signed up for an online boot camp, and put myself to like, Okay, I’m going to build this one thing, right, I’m going to go build this chatbot. But this chatbot is actually not going to be programmed, it’s going to do learning through the way that the conversation moves along. And so to be able to do and teach yourself and do those kinds of experiments in your time in your spare time is critical. If you are young, and you’re a new student to this, go take a Python class, do yourself a favor, just so that you have the basis an understanding of how the program works, right. It’s not that you have to program Python perfectly, that isn’t what generative is about. It is about being able to read the Python and see where the parameters in the code are so that you can make the changes to the thing. And the last part that I would say is be inventive with the way that we collect data, right? We have so much technology at our fingertips. I remember when we first started our interactive process of collecting data on people’s ears, we were utilizing calipers and things like that. And we were utilizing it because audiologists had said, This is how we do it. Then I went and found an audiology clinic in Oklahoma City called high hertz for hearing, who if you’re at all in the consumer electronics making wearables, you need to go talk with these guys they are, you know, they put MIT and Stanford to shame as their knowledge because they’re one of the world’s leaders in cochlear implants. And what Dr. Jay school essentially proposed was, let’s use these 3d scanners, just the way we do 3d printers, 3d scanners, to scan the human ear, right or to take a mold, scan that and create a database out of that. Now you have all the parameters of the ear. Now you understand how the physicality of how the ear works. And so you start doing that and you model the data. Here’s what I’ll tell you, every aspect of what we do is changing. But it’s changing because we’re utilizing technology in new inventive ways. You know, it used to be that we would you know, take and video things right. Now we can use machine learning to do analysis of those videos and pull out insights that maybe we didn’t see in the first time we didn’t see that behavior or something that was different. So my advice to people is get your hands study. For those of you that like hands-on, there is nothing more hands-on than learning to code. That’s number one. And then the number two pieces, picking up a book, Getting your Alexa device to read it to you. If you know, if you don’t want to go chapter by chapter, listen to the audio version of it, you are a YouTube search away from how to start with a generative design in your field, you can put in generative design, plus the field, so generative design, industrial design, generative design, the right software, or you know, an interface design, all of those things are there for you. But it’s really about trying to craft a roadmap and decide that you’re going to actually now then apply that knowledge to an experiment, right, choose one thing that could be anything.

Dan Harden 35:47
Excellent, excellent advice. On top of that, for those that don’t want to sit down, learn how to code, just think about it and incorporate it into your design process. And knowing its power, and offering it to your client or your team as a means of getting you to a better place.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 36:09
Well, I think it’s setting being aware of it, and setting a new expectation for your design organization. Right, becoming aware of it, understanding it at a high level. And I do a lot of by the way, I do a lot of training, through cognitive experience design, in the world of teaching the basics of AI, what it can’t do, what it can do, right? What are the products that are out there and how to use them differently? But how artists are doing it, you know how you’re seeing it in UI construction, through codeless tools, as things like fire drop, or grid, V dot three, or even one of my favorite is in the area of the type. And there’s a project called mutate of design around type that is doing some really remarkable things. And then in pictures, you are seeing things like logo shuffle, a fantastic again, it’s using generative design, that’s choosing your favorite styles, you pick your favorite colors, and voila generates millions of logos for you to pick through crazy. Variables, variable fonts are the parametric. So it’s utilizing parametric typography, based on the idea of like an interpolation from several key variables, right, like the height, the width, the optical size of it, and then it produces new types of phones for you. So there are so a ton of tools that are out there, you can go to cognitive experience Dot Design, I list them as I find them. And as our teams are utilizing them. And as a designer really, I’ve really tried to use the design as a community to share these tools with the world. Because they are going to be you know, if you’re if you don’t want to be able to control your canvas, then don’t learn to code. Okay, let’s be very clear about something when you want to control your canvas, the canvas that you’re working with, having knowledge and idea about taking a one on one class helps a lot. But if you’re looking for wisdom with tools that are offering constraints, but still get you to a similar output, maybe not as custom, but a similar output, then there are codeless tools that are available to you.

Dan Harden 38:15
What can you say last my last question for you. What can you say to those individuals that are afraid of AI? You hear so many people? Oh, no, I don’t want to go near that. They talk about the singularity and how can you quell some of these fears? It seems ridiculous to me, but maybe the word artificial is the wrong word.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 38:33
Yeah. So when I was at IBM working with Watson, we used to call it augmented intelligence. Okay. There’s nothing artificial about it. It is about augmented intelligence. You know, some people call it algorithmic intelligence, realizing that is an evolution of the software process. You know, others will take a look at it and still feel fear. I’ve got to blame Hollywood a little bit for this. And I hate blaming the media, but for crying out loud. Can we do one movie? Just one where AI was the hero? And I And to me, the hero isn’t necessarily thing I think Iron Man does a better job because it’s augmenting his abilities is what it’s actually there to do today. But, you know, when we think about how it is there, let’s be very clear. If you never learn about it, it will replace your job.

Dan Harden 39:25
Yeah, okay. Again, it’s yeah, it’s human nature, fear of the unknown. And that’s how we see this.

Joanna Peña-Bickley 39:33
But no, right? We as human beings should be seeking not to stand still and time and allow things to happen to us. We actually do the majority of humans on the earth, not all but the majority of human have free will. And in that space where you have freewill. My dare to you, is to try and learn something new every day. And if you’re able to take that you would approach this in a way that says, well, I could actually be an amazing artist, or you know, an amazing designer. Some of the things that I see it going on in generative art are just mind-blowing, I’m actually thinking as opposed to just investing in art these days, I’ve just, you know, bought a home and putting up screens that only do generate my favorite generative designs. Because it is, so the craft is so beautiful, it’s finite, right, and you’re starting to see a market rise in the area of crypto art. But it’s really important for us to understand and know that when you when you fall in love with it, and to know that it was made by a human and a machine, we’re at a point where we’re, you know, we’re kind of at day one of human machine integration. And that’s what this is, it’s not the machine taking over. If you let it, it will. It’s about you becoming much more in tune with the tools and the machines that are here and available to you, so that we can solve these really tough and hard problems, but enjoy the magic of the way that we solve them.

Dan Harden 41:02
I absolutely love your passion and enthusiasm for this topic. I simply cannot thank you for spending this time with me enough. I think your next book should be or your book should be overcoming entanglement. Yeah, with generative design, you bring up so many profound and provocative points on this topic. And I thank you so very much, Joanna,

Joanna Peña-Bickley 41:30
Thank you so much for having me. Have a good day. You too.

Dan Harden 41:36
Thank you for listening to PRISM. Follow us on or your favorite streaming platform, and we’ll be back with more thought-provoking episodes soon.

Unknown Speaker 41:46
Prism is hosted by Dan Harden, Principal Designer and CEO of whipsaw, produced by Gabrielle Whelan and Isabella Glenn, mix and Sound Design by Eric Newell.