Text: Jens Persson
/ Images: Inna Zrajaeva &
While worries regarding the ethical application of these
technologies may be valid, we are also seeing numerous useful
examples in our daily lives. For example: traffic apps for your
smartphone, spam filters for your inbox and even complex medical
diagnostics. Machine learning is essentially about teaching
computers to learn from experience, the way humans and animals do.
The algorithms used in machine learning are programmed to find
patterns and to keep adapting and "learning". Generally speaking,
the more data you put in, the more accurate and refined the result
During a two-week crash course in machine learning, IxD2
students were challenged to develop an original concept using
software tools offered by machine learning technology.
"I think I've now learnt that you don't have to be a coding wiz
to apply machine learning in your design process. During the
course, this notion was actually quite quickly debunked. After
being able to "look under the hood" of some software models where
machine learning is used, I think I can now better understand when
such methods can be really useful in your own designing", says
Prithvi Ranjan, IxD2 student.
Challenging stereotypes through the power of AI
Inna Zrajaeva, who teamed up with Prithvi for this project, were
quite surprised about where the machine learning software took
their own design process.
"We were inspired by our tutors to get really creative with a
range of different machine learning technologies. What we ended up
doing was to feed around 400 images of various cartoonish 3D
characters into this machine learning software called Runway. Then,
we set it up so that it could create some new and unique characters
from these images, and the output that we got was
super-interesting. In the end, we got a set of blobby and really
ambiguous looking creatures."
The gender-neutral and quite fluid beings that popped out of the
machine learning software inspired Prithvi and Inna to use them as
empty canvases in a creative storytelling exercise for parents and
kids. By involving characters that don't fit the mold of
traditional gender stereotypes, Prithvi and Inna hope to counteract
the figures that typically line shelves in toy stores the world
over, such as overly feminine dolls and male muscular
The final product is a website called Tiny Tales. Here, children
and parents start by randomly generating their lead characters, and
then naming them. The next step is to start writing the story.
After a paragraph or two, the text-based machine learning
algorithms take over and start producing the next part of the
story. The rest of the experience now becomes a creative
back-and-forth between the kids, the parents and the machine
When the adventure is concluded and the fairy tale has
reached its conclusion, the programme automatically creates an
entire childrens' book ready for printing, with images to go along
with the story.
Adding machine learning to the designer toolkit
The course has allowed students to grasp the basics of machine
learning, as well as incite discussions on the technology's
potential merits and drawbacks in society. For Inna, Prithvi and
their classmates, the introduction to machine learning has also
added another key instrument to their design toolkit.
"Going forward, I think we can now use machine learning to more
easily create digital design prototypes that actually work and that
are more re-active and agile than a more straightforward video, for
example. It can help us by giving a design idea or concept further
validity at an earlier stage of the design process", concludes Inna