At the beginning of 2021, Snøhetta and the art platform Collective Oslo started a collaboration to explore how designers can utilize generative AI for co-creation and design thinking. The project took an experimental approach and intended to investigate questions such as "What can co-creation with a machine teach us about creativity? In what ways can machines elevate our designs visually, intellectually, and emotionally? How does the role of designers adapt and change when collaborating with machines?”
Since then, we have seen a vast development of machine learning and AI tools used both in design and art, and the technology has become available for all, providing the creative industry with both competition and new opportunities.
In addition to being driven by curiosity and a desire to explore, the Snøhetta x Collective Oslo partnership had a concrete goal; to create a new visual identity and website for Collective Oslo with an ever-changing expression. It quickly became apparent that the identity had to be created through a designer - AI dialogue.
An unconventional approach to brand identity
Collective Oslo is an interdisciplinary art platform focusing on the intersections of art and technology within both analog and digital arts. Since its start in 2015, they have initiated and produced innovative, cross-disciplinary art and culture collaborations: more than 250 exhibitions and cultural events, and collaborations with over 580 artists from all over the world. However, little had been done to communicate the DNA of the platform itself, and to make its content available in the digital sphere.
After approaching Snøhetta to collaborate, the project soon turned into an experimental venture with no predefined boundaries. At the core of the project for both Collective Oslo and Snøhetta was the curiosity of how to think in unconventional ways to create a visual expression that challenges the traditional branding process by experimenting with generative technologies.
A constantly evolving identity
Over the next two years, the explorative project evolved into a new visual identity and digital presence with continually changing expressions, where AI is used to convey the platform's constantly evolving search for the most vibrant frequency in arts and culture.
The logo symbol is created by an algorithm trained to generate letter shapes and another was specifically trained to generate graphics resembling organic material – representing the opposite of machines and technology.
Three of the algorithms originally explored are included in the final visual identity and website. All are open source and can be seen here. The first algorithm, StyleGAN, has been used in two different ways to create two different expressions, by uploading images to train it to recognize shapes and generate more. Using the same algorithm for two different things, allowed it to concentrate on one specific task at a time, and mastering it very well.
First, the algorithm was used to create the changeable logo, now containing 10,000 versions of the letter C. Secondly, it was used to create a series of organic patterns, by feeding it pictures of nature – creating a contrast to the digital technology. To maintain visual coherence in the diverse outputs, the first-iteration results were processed through the Potrace algorithm. This algorithm drew out the line-based visual language. It generates vector files, ensuring a coherent and recognizable style for Collective Oslo.
When entering the website, the third algorithm, GammaCV, will access the camera on your computer to generate a live linear drawing of your face, and what is seen through its lens. The visualization depicts how we look in the eyes of machines, and acts as a stark reminder that we are being observed more than we like to think, providing big tech companies with a lot of information about our lives.
Examining the role of the designer
The identity of Collective Oslo is created through a set of adaptive visual expressions, created by a set of algorithms. The expressions are all machine-made. However, the machine could not have created this artistic expression without the original input of the human designers. Furthermore, the algorithms' primary function became that of generating visuality – elements that contribute to the overall identity and the primary expression of the identity, namely the website.
The designer was there throughout the creative process to curate the outcome, and stop it in time – leaving traces of the operation and intended imperfection. The result is an examination and reflection on the designer's role, and what is possible to achieve by treating algorithms as co-creators in the design process.
On the 29th of November, Snøhetta and Collective Oslo will present the process and results of this research collaboration at an event at Snøhetta's offices in Oslo.