A five-minute introduction to our article for the Eksig2023 conference in Milan, Italy.

“Sketching” with Probes: Exploring Design through Prototyping.

In our exploration of the concept of “obstinacy” (Eigensinn), we developed a prototype that served as a medium for visual communication and design formulation. We utilized simple geometrical shapes like rectangles and triangles to translate the concepts of “the Wheel” into a visual realm. This approach allowed us to engage with the design process visually, using the prototype and later the Knowledge Horizon Trajectory (KHT) model Figure 1 as vehicles for exchanging tacit knowledge.

Fig 1. KHT model

During the initial iteration, we aimed to maintain a 1:1 relationship between the digital and physical models, creating a “twin” that simulated the state of each counterpart. This approach blurred the boundaries between digital and mechanical interfaces, fostering ambiguity and stimulating our imagination. Surprisingly, the resulting images in both prototypes evolved into complex structures formed from overlapping shadows, deviating from the simple shapes we started with.

To further explore the shadows created by the prototype, we introduced the idea of using probes as a sketching technique. Probing allowed us to embrace ambiguity and creativity, aiming for feasibility in a pluralistic environment. The probes acted as tools for acquiring knowledge and learning from the unknown aspects of the prototype’s conceptual and concrete spaces. This approach enabled us to continuously generate visually rich and multi-layered maps, providing a basis for establishing new associations and meaning structures.

Through probing, we developed a fragmented understanding of the prototype and its components, constantly uncovering hidden potentials. Rather than reducing the machine to a singular function, we sought to visually capture its output and continuously generate new possibilities. This approach led us to Klecksography, a method using inkblots to inspire stories or poems. The ambiguity inherent in these figures aligned with our expectations in the early stages of prototyping.

Each probing activity increased the complexity and prompted considerations regarding the computational design and outcome quality. To facilitate collective reflection and visualization of our prototyping activities, we created a model—a circular field representing a gravitational center for our compositional assembly. Drawing lines from the model’s center for each probing activity helped us understand whether it confirmed our existing knowledge horizon, exceeded our assumptions, or pointed us towards unknown territories.

The model also allowed us to discuss constraints and limitations beyond the scope of the prototype itself, stimulating conversations about unforeseen problems. Additionally, the metaphor of “gravity” within the Knowledge Horizon Trajectory can be extended to other aspects. We considered the artist’s presence and personality as an autonomous force attracting and distorting the forcefield established through the knowledge horizon. By transforming and combining these distributed aspects, new constellations of ideas emerged, expanding the knowledge horizon through their own gravitational pull.

Fig 2. Iteration 1 sequence, probing Transformational Stepping: From Maps to Mountains

We embarked on a journey to shape a mountain through recursion and displacement map renderings. By introducing various masks into the recursive rendering process of the machine, both in 2D and 3D, we aimed to guide it towards a mountain-like form. The results surpassed our expectations, as the landscape exhibited unforeseen properties and complexities. Figure 2 showcases the transformative stepping, where different maps influenced the recursive rendering, leading from maps to 3D printed models.

The rendering quality of the mountains heavily relied on the recursive use of displacement maps, which proved to be remarkably significant. This process also pushed the limits of the rendering engines we employed. Transforming 2D renderings, typically the end product of a design process, into 3D objects revealed a multitude of quirks and errors that were otherwise hidden. Interestingly, these subtle errors possessed their own unique and aesthetically appealing qualities. By overdriving the CAD rendering process, we gained new insights and ventured beyond the knowledge horizon. This trajectory (2b figure 1) led the prototype from stability to instability, ultimately reaching a new stable condition that surpassed the knowledge horizon.