Lydia O'Callaghan, Communication Design - Class of '16, Talks about her Senior Thesis

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© Lydia O'Callaghan

Lydia O’Callaghan, Communication Design – class of ’16, gives some insight into the progress of her Senior Thesis.

Tell us the topic of your thesis and what are the main aims, questions, hypotheses?
The main aim of my thesis is to draw similarities (and eventually conclusions) between the field of generative design and the design processes of nature – such as evolution, iteration, and variation. Generative design describes the technique of generating visual work from code, allowing designers to access a greater amount of data than would be possible through analog design. It is often mistaken for computer aided design, but in fact refers to the practice of taking of an additional step in the design process – one that could theoretically be done through analog techniques but is made possible by the power of computing. For example, generative designers can use evolutionary systems to create objects that are highly optimized for their purpose – The Bone Chair, by Joris Laarman, illustrates this well. Interested in the bones ability to not only add material where it is needed, but also to take it away where it is not, he was able to design (‘evolve’) a chair that is optimized for stability and strength by repeatedly running an algorithm that simulates the pressure points of a sitting person. Other examples could be the use of large amounts of static or dynamic input to create data visualizations, which can be evolved and optimized through subjective metrics like aesthetics. With this in mind I make the claim that generative design can be part of a larger conversation about Universal Darwinism – the idea that the basic fundamentals of darwinism can be applied outside the field of biology.

What were your motivations for your research?
I was first turned on to this field when I was introduced to the work of the generative design studio Onformative in Berlin. Their work centers around large scale data visualizations and interactive exhibitions, which I found fascinating. I actually wrote my application essay to PCA on their work.

What challenges are you facing?
One challenge that I will need to overcome this semester is creating something original and applicable in Processing (a visual coding language), which I haven’t worked with much. Thankfully, as it’s an open source software, there is a lot of resources online to help self-teach.

If you did it again what would you do differently?
If I were to undertake this project again, I would place more importance on being organized right from the beginning. Instead, I found myself confused and unclear about my direction after doing too much research without any framework to structure it.

How do you think this project could help you with your future career goals?
At this point I haven’t done much generative design, but will need to for the second part of my thesis, which involves creating a visual project to accompany the written section. I’m not sure if this will lead to anything in the future, but is definitely a direction I’m interested in at the moment.

What advice would you give to students who want to pursue art as higher education?
Use the time you have in school to experiment with as many different ideas, directions, and materials as you can! I wish I had done this more before this year.