Making Impossible Street Furniture Possible With Generative Design

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A park bench made to demonstrate the everyday use of generative design to a wider audience.

When you see it, you stop; it looks so familiar but starkly different. Straight-lined wooden slats squarely frame those formless tendrils, a metallic exoskeleton supporting this quite arresting object. It’s a public bench, but like none you have ever seen. The cedar wood’s warm symmetry contrasts with the other-world geometry of the “legs,” merged into an organic tree-like structure beyond human design.

The asymmetrical frame looks wrong at first. Will it take my weight if I sit at one end? As you study it further, and you begin to feel how it all works.

This eye-catching street bench was designed using generative design, a technology that defies convention and makes the impossible possible. Product designer Mark Chester was a masters’ student at Manchester Metropolitan University Print-City when he designed this bench. He was studying industrial digitalization and had 3-4 years’ experience with using Autodesk Fusion 360 when he became immersed in its’ generative design capabilities. 

Generative design is a design exploration process that allows designers to input their design goals and parameters such as performance, spatial requirements, materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints into the software. The powerful program explores all possible permutations of a solution, quickly generating multiple alternative designs.

Generative design technology tests and learns what works and what doesn’t from each iteration. In the end, the algorithm presents results that meet the defined criteria to the human designer, who then uses high-level goals and tradeoffs to select the design that best meets their needs.

Though largely unknown to the world, Chester knew that generative design had tremendous potential in product design and engineering. It can create designs that inspire and connect people to products more deeply. He wanted to make something to demonstrate the power of generative design to a wider audience — an everyday object with a design that’s rarely challenged and that people could quickly relate with.

Chester asked himself, “if I was a consumer and I saw a generative design for the first time, how could I best translate what it does, while also having the form of something commonplace?” He chose the common park bench. 

A Fully Immersive Collaboration Tool

Generative design and the power of the cloud made the asymmetric frame design possible.

Fusion 360 was the go-to design platform to bring this bench to life. Chester knows it intimately, and it’s intuitive, powerful, and fast. Generative design creates hundreds of optimized design variations in minutes, often organic in style, resembling the structures of insects or plants due to the evolutionary algorithms the software is based on. Fusion 360 and generative design have been developed to be, above all, collaborative tools. As a talented product designer but not an engineer, he enlisted the help of engineers at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham and Aristo-Cast, a specialist casting company and Autodesk partner in Michigan, US.

Complex product designs typically have several tens, even hundreds, of people involved, with different levels of experience and geographically dispersed. Effective collaboration has often been the bottleneck of many design projects.

“Typically, in a large design team,

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