Natural Rules

How does form come to life?

From Rules…
Designers have been analysing nature to extract the rules that lie underneath its masterful creations. Instead of merely constructing buildings, architects now use these rules to grow the most extravagant parametric structures based on natural algorithms. Product designers start with MVPs and grow improved versions of a product in an evolutionary process. Visual artists create dynamic systems as sources of endless shapes emanating from generative design rules. 

… to Data…
Meanwhile machine learning algorithms pose a signifcant shift that profoundly transforms our everyday lives. Instead of extracting the rules and implementing them in software we now feed our machines huge amounts of data. Software which we label with the – somewhat misleading – term „Artificial Intelligence“ helps us make predictions without understanding the rules behind the data.

…to Life.
We are going to look at both, how to mimic the rules of nature and how to design with data. And yet, our goal is not to imitate life. We want to go beyond rules and data to understand what makes a product come to life. We go from biological processes to design processes and explore how to set up a design biosphere that grows products and brings them to life.

In the first part (5 weeks) of the semester we are going to work on a short inspirational project, visit the Dutch Design Week and learn about parametric design approaches inspired by biological rules and data. 

In the second part (7 weeks) every student follows their own interests and works on a free project with a topic of their choice using the tools and media (digital or analog) they want.

1. Inspirational short project: The Perfect Crime

Adolf Loos famously coined the dictum “Ornament is crime”. Well, we’ll take him up on that:

Design your own cookie cutters and cover a table with an ornament of cookies!

We are going to address the following design topics:

  • Form: We design an ornamental structure based on rules or data.
  • Reflection: We discuss rules and data in nature, technology, and design.
  • Material study: We explore cookie dough as a design medium. 
  • Rapid Prototyping: We make our own cookie cutters using laser cutter and 3D printing technology.
  • Process: We follow a structured Innovation Design Process.


  • Which material properties do you focus on and why?
  • What is the function of your ornament?
  • What does this ornament communicate and why?
  • What processes, rules or data does your ornament follow?

Links & Literature:
Neri Oxman
Thompson, D’Arcy: On Growth and Form
Flake, Gary William: The Computational Beauty of Nature
Shifman, Daniel: The Nature of Code
Parametric Design

2. Free project: Natural Rules

In part 2 of this semester every students works on their personal free project. This will involve the following steps:

Define your interest: What would you like to do?

Set up a productive framework: Which media or tools do you want to use (analog or digital)? What do you want to learn? What format do you want to work in? What ideal outcome do you imagine?

Make a plan: We will learn about a variety of design processes and help each participant to lay out the process fitting the requirements of their personal project.

Work together: Even though every student works on their own project we are going to meet every week for inspiring conversations, critiques, and discussions.

Articulate what you do: Participants will practise to articulate their thoughts and convey their excitement about their topic in a compelling narrative.

Deliver: Every student will successfully complete this semester with a documentation of their short project and their personal free project.