When people ask me what my research is about, I tell them it’s a lot like cooking. When you cook, you don’t just throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot; you often follow a recipe.
Over the last fifteen years I’ve taught design in a variety of context: architecture, graphic design, industrial design, computer animation, even game design. Across the board I see a common problem. Design educators have been teaching students to cook up their designs without following recipes (if you follow my cooking metaphor). We have not shown the method of creating a recipe or focused on the skill set to reengineer a recipe after tasting someone else’s design.
Of course, some would call taking ideas from taste testing another’s design an act of cheating, but in the culinary world, swapping flavors is at the core of artistic expression. Any great chef learns that there is some room for improving or changing a recipe. It offers such flexibility. Once the recipe is mastered, the chef then can add something new to it or maybe swap ingredients, all the while playing and experimenting during the creation and/or cooking process. Nonetheless, the recipe is always present.
In my work I use Shape Grammars as a methodology to teach students about the recipes that lie beneath any design. Algorithms are nothing more than recipes, and I believe it is time for designers to start learning to play with them. Creating a design recipe is just as playful as the actual process of building or fabricating a design. Furthermore, recipes can be created —and tweaked—before, after, or during the cooking process. We can use them to cook or as a way to analyze what we have tasted. It’s a great metaphor to think about design and a helpful way to think about the intersection of creativity and calculation.
In my work I look at play as an informal learning method to teach design. I like to utilize games and play to teach design and creativity. In doing so I try to challenge educators to think about their own practice as a playful activity, to show that even in creating curricula and learning environments we can use playful calculation.