Philosophical Grammars for Automated Design


As Ira Glass has pointed out when discussing creativity, understanding and learning to act on one’s sense of style is key to doing successful creative work. This sense of style represents an underlying philosophy which today is a predominant way to convey someones true response to the world. Given tools to interpret personal philosophies with significant efficacy, design determinism could feasibly increase to a point at which automated mechanisms can embody specific designers perfectly and produce artifacts on their behalf. In this world designers would be tasked with an ongoing challenge of accurately representing their changing philosophical responses, and would face competition based on the purity of their philosophies, and the effectiveness of their representations. In other words, designers success would depend on quality and coherence of their philosophical grammars.

Measuring and Representing Personal Philosophy

Journals, public design decisions, social interactions and all other aspects of our living fossil record can lead to near infinitely nuanced representations of our personal philosophies, however, at this time we don’t have a great way to understand this or make sense of it yet. Today search and credit card companies know so much about us that they can sometimes draw more revealing conclusions about our opinions than we can ourselves, however, they tend not to know why and they have almost nothing of interest to do with that information due to shallow representations.

Computational solutions may exist eventually, but for the time being, we can move forward with something more like survey on personal philosophy. Something similar in theory to the MBTI or Pymetrics, except built to review very specific philosophical preferences. For example, with knowledge about if a designer prefers constant radius fillets or curvature continuous fillets may have strong implications to how they will design physical products. On the other hand, how they lean in an empathically motivating situation may offer indicators about how they will design services, systems or experiences. Over time, an approach like this would become more nuanced, eventually encompassing everything we can know about someone to attempt to make as accurate models as possible.

Grammars are often used to provide a codified representation of the structure of language [Chomsky, 1957], but also in design, usually in the form of shape grammars [Gips and Stiny, 1972; Stiny, 1980a, 19980b]. Grammars serve as a potential conduit to convey personal philosophies, but to do so, a formal notion of abstract structure and abstract grammar must be proposed. For the time being, Machine Learning and Algorithmic Game Theory provide a basic formalism for this kind of thing, but a more specific structure will have to evolve.

Implications on Modern Manufacturing

Currently, rapid manufacturing is widely available but tools to support personal design are clumsy and most consumers have little or no understanding of how to ensure a design is good. Assuming we can measure and make use of personal philosophies, rapid manufacturing becomes more flexible as services could offer, for example, to read all your email and provide idealized designs, suited for your philosophical disposition.

Eventually this may mean that designers are supplanted by mind reading robots which create perfect products without much thought, but it will also mean that good designers become philosophical thought leaders as the valuable insights they spend time imparting into their grammar may be beyond the conception of others. In other words, taste and style will remain a valuable commodity, because people don’t only not know what they want, they also, often, don’t know what they think about what they want, before having experienced it.


Philosophical grammars of famous designers and artists would become very valuable to the point that companies would keep them as trade secrets, and industrial espionage involving steeling or somehow interpreting a brand grammar would be a constant consideration between companies like Apple and Samsung. A black market of grammars would emerge in which by espousing ones self to valuable philosophical lessons you may be able to operate at a more mature level and have more carefully designed objects in your environment.


Implementing philosophical grammars for automated design is perfectly plausible with current technology. It is however, relatively repugnant to society and could lead to a pre singularity demise to humanity. Specifically because a system like this is not artificially intelligent, but instead, artificially makes human philosophy as powerful as possible, and for now, this is not something we can handle as a race.


  1. Chomsky, N.: 1957, Syntactic Structures, The Hague: Mouton.
  2. Gips, J. and Stiny, G.: 1972, Shape grammars and the generative specification of painting and sculpture, in C. V. Freiman (ed.), Information Processing 71, North-Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 1460-1465.
  3. Stiny, G.: 1980a, Introduction to shape and shape grammars, Environment and Planning B, 7, 343-351.
  4. Stiny, G.: 1980b, Kindergarten grammars: designing with Froebel’s building gifts, Environment and Planning B, 7, 409-462.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s