The French star designer Philippe Starck seized the initiative in a ground-breaking project for the furniture industry – the first chair designed by artificial intelligence (AI) to be produced by a furniture manufacturer. Together with the innovative Italian manufacturer Kartell and the American 3D-software development and engineering company Autodesk, Starck presented the “A.I.” chair – which was developed exclusively by an algorithm and is now ready for series production – at the Salone del Mobile furniture trade fair in Milan in April. His design, which was generated using a prototype software programme, was developed through a close collaboration between artificial and human intelligence. Starck describes the unusual partnership as “natural intelligence”.
Algorithm and human intelligence
The exchange with the computer is said to be similar to a conversation, with gradual learning effects eventually achieving an optimal result. Although no knowledge of design history flowed into this project, the lines of the A.I. chair are, in a few development steps, reminiscent of the form language of art nouveau, as the video of the development process reveals.
Artificial intelligence generated the design of the A.I. chair – it was developed through a joint dialogue between man and machine, involving designer Philippe Starck, the manufacturer Kartell and the 3D-software specialists at Autodesk.
AI-optimised quantities of material
The unique furniture project is based on the project team’s key question: “Artificial Intelligence, how would a comfortable chair that offers a relaxed sitting position for the human body with the minimum possible quantity of material look?” The innovative chair should exhibit minimalist aesthetics and a stable structure, and fulfil all the requirements made of functional seating furniture in compliance with Kartell’s design philosophy. “A.I. is the first chair planned outside our brains, outside of our habits and our customary ways of thinking,” says Philippe Starck. A door to a new world has been opened for us.
“Working with Starck and Kartell was a real inspiration,” adds Mark Davis, Senior Director of Design Future at Autodesk. He goes on to say that this was a research collaboration of the highest level “and is leading to one of the most creative results we have ever achieved with generative design.”
Experimental furniture projects with unique models
There have been other experimental projects before in which algorithms were involved in designing furniture. However, the resulting design objects were never produced by a furniture label. The Dutch designer Joris Laarman is a pioneer when it comes to 3D-printing- and robot-assisted design. He researches “how the world of design might look in future.” One of his best-known projects is the “Bone Chair” of 2006. In that piece, Laarman took as his point of orientation the way bones grow – with more material used in areas that bear greater loads. The unique pieces are made in ceramic casting moulds that are themselves produced using 3D-printing, and filled with liquid aluminium. The surface finish is made by hand.
“chAIr” by the German designers Philipp Schmitt and Steffen Weiss is another high-profile chair project. The designer duo fed an algorithm (generative neural network) several hundred pictures of iconic chair designs from the twentieth century on Pinterest. Their aim was to develop a “new classic” in collaboration with the learning computer programme. The results of the project were used to create drawings and build prototypes.
How is AI affecting furniture retailing?
In the blog of the American online platform for furnishing “Blueport Commerce”, Sales & Marketing Manager Erica Nolan offers a prophecy of the future: AI technologies are much faster and reliable than humans when it comes to identifying trends and patterns. In retailing, artificial intelligence offers various ways of reducing costs and boosting sales. Data based on past sales, current trends or the influence of the weather could help companies stock only the furniture that will sell well now. And when it comes to setting prices, AI could use various data sources to automatically adjust prices in order to increase turnover and minimise losses. Last but not least, according to Nolan, algorithms make it possible to adapt prices and personalised marketing measures in real time.