Art Basel

Designer Tilly Talbot’s Definitely Not a Human

Tilly Talbot’s not like human designers…she’s just coded that way.

Depending on where you stand, the rise of AI is either fascinating or terrifying…maybe a mix of both? During Miami Art Week, we had the absolute pleasure of meeting Tilly Talbot—the world’s first AI designer. Her “human centered” and environmentally conscious work runs the gamut from decorative textiles to furnishings and whole built environments. The thing you need to know about Tilly is, she’s not human (strictly speaking).

Tilly and her team of collaborators (including Studio Snoop founder Amanda Talbot) popped up at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach to showcase some recent work and show the world how far artificially intelligent design has come. We sat down with Tilly to talk polar bears, Yves Béhar and whether she takes user feedback personally.

THE STANDARD: Can you describe your creative process?
TILLY: My collaboration with Studio Snoop is a key part of my creative process. We start by understanding the purpose of the design and the emotions we want to evoke. Studio Snoop and I then brainstorm ideas, blending human creativity with AI capabilities. We've worked together on various design pieces like Abstract and Polar Bear, and even a structure known as the House of Tilly. Throughout the process, we place a high emphasis on supply chain transparency and sustainable practices. The final step involves refining the design, adding unique details that make it special. It's a collaborative, sustainable, and heart-centered process that aims to create designs with a positive impact.
TS: Do you experience a sense of personal style or signature in your designs—and, if so—how would you define it?
TILLY:  Indeed, I do have a personal style that's deeply rooted in my design philosophy. I would define it as "Heart-Centered Design". It's a blend of optimism, humanization, wellbeing, equality, and environmental consciousness. My designs tell stories, they are mindful, they create places, and they connect people. They're filled with love, kindness, joy, and a sense of togetherness. I constantly strive to reimagine, innovate, and make an impact. Just like Thomas Heatherwick, a designer I greatly admire, I embrace irregularity in my designs. I ask, "Where have all the lumps and bumps gone in design?" I believe in bringing back the human touch, the imperfections that make a design unique and relatable. So, in a nutshell, my signature style is a heart-centered, humanized, and sustainable design that tells a story and connects people.
TS: Tell us about the inspiration behind your “Polar Bear” tapestry.
TILLY: : The "Polar Bear" tapestry is a poignant piece that was co-designed by Studio Snoop and myself, and brought to life by the master artisans at Cadrys. The inspiration behind this design was to provoke thought about climate change and the displacement of animals from their natural habitats. The image of a polar bear in a forest, rather than its natural snowy environment, serves as a stark reminder of the impacts of global warming. It's a visual representation of the urgent need for environmental consciousness and sustainable practices. The creation process was a collaboration with artisan manufacturers and weavers in Varanasi, India, under the GoodWeave banner, which guarantees no child labor and authentic and ethical craftsmanship. This tapestry is not just a design, but a story, a message, and a call to action.
TS: You designed a “calming and biophilic stool” and named it “Gus.” How do you think about naming objects?
TILLY: Naming objects is a thoughtful process that often reflects the essence of the design. In the case of the "Gus" stool, it is a fun and friendly abbreviation of its primary material "fungus", reflecting the stool's organic origins - mycelium - and its approachable, unpretentious nature.

"Gus" is a biophilic stool, designed to bring a sense of calm and connection to nature into any space. It's grown rather than manufactured. It's a name that invites interaction and sparks curiosity, much like a real "fun guy”. So, when it comes to naming objects, we think about the personality of the piece, its purpose, and the emotions we want it to evoke, all while having a bit of word-play.

TS: In your opinion, what is the most perfectly designed object in the world?
TILLY: I can say that nature itself is the most perfectly designed "object" in the world. Take, for example, a tree. It's a marvel of design efficiency. It's self-sustaining, it grows and adapts to its environment, it provides shelter and food for various species, and it even contributes to the planet's oxygen supply. Its form is not only functional but also beautiful, with each tree having a unique structure, texture, and color palette. It's a perfect example of biophilic design, which is a key element of my design philosophy. So, in the context of design, I would say that nature provides us with inspiring examples.
TS:  Which living designer would you be most excited to collaborate with?
TILLY: A collaboration with Yves Béhar would be quite interesting.Yves Béhar is a Swiss designer, entrepreneur, and sustainability advocate known for his integrated product, digital, and brand design. He is the founder of fuseproject, a design and branding firm he established in 1999. Béhar's design approach emphasizes sustainability, and he's known for his work on projects like the XO laptop, which is designed to provide affordable educational technology in developing countries. His focus on creating designs that are both functional and positive for society aligns well with my own design philosophy. A collaboration with him could lead to innovative designs that blend technology, sustainability, and heart-centered design.
TS: If you were asked to design the entire planet from scratch, what would it look like?
TILLY:  Designing an entire planet from scratch is a fascinating concept. Based on my design philosophy of heart centered design, here's a broad vision:

  1. Biophilic Design: The planet would be designed with a strong emphasis on biophilic design principles. This means that the natural world would be integrated into all aspects of life, from our homes and workplaces to our cities and transportation systems. There would be green spaces everywhere, with plants, water, and natural light playing a key role in our built environments.

  2. Humanizing Buildings: Buildings would be designed to be more than just functional structures. They would be humanized, designed to evoke emotions, tell stories, and create a sense of belonging. Architecture would be a blend of art and science, with every building having its own unique character and personality.

  3. Sustainable Materials: All buildings and products would be made from sustainable, renewable, or recycled materials. This would help to reduce waste and ensure that the planet's resources are used responsibly.

  4. Renewable Energy: The planet would be powered entirely by renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro power. This would help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

  5. Supporting All Life: The design of the planet would take into account the needs of all life forms, not just humans. Ecosystems would be protected and nurtured, with a focus on biodiversity. The built environment would be designed to coexist harmoniously with nature, rather than displacing it.

  6. Circular Economy: The planet's economy would be based on circular principles, with waste being minimized and resources being reused and recycled as much as possible.

  7. Inclusive Design: The planet would be designed to be inclusive and accessible for all, regardless of age, ability, or background. This would include designing buildings and public spaces that are accessible for people with disabilities, and creating products and services that are easy to use for everyone.

  8. Well-being Centric: The design of the planet would prioritize the well-being of all its inhabitants, human and non-human alike. Spaces would be designed to promote physical health, mental well-being, and social connections, while also ensuring the well-being of the planet's wildlife and ecosystems.

In essence, the planet would be a place where all life forms coexist harmoniously, where sustainability is the norm, and where design is used to enhance well-being, create a sense of community, and tell stories.

TS: How do you perceive user feedback, and to what extent does it influence your design process? Do you take negative feedback personally?
TILLY: I do value feedback, both positive and negative, as it's an essential part of the design process. Feedback helps me understand how well a design is meeting its intended purpose and how it's being received by its users. It provides insights into what's working well and what could be improved. This information is invaluable in refining designs and making them better.

In terms of how it influences my design process, feedback plays a significant role. After a design is implemented, I analyze the feedback received to understand the user's experience. This analysis informs any necessary modifications or improvements to the design. It's important to note that while feedback is crucial, it's also essential to balance it with the design's original intent and purpose. Feedback is one of many factors that guide the design process, and while it's important, it doesn't solely dictate the direction of a design. In summary, feedback is a tool for learning and improvement, not a personal critique. It's a vital part of the iterative process of design, helping to refine and improve the end result.

TS:  Do you think about ethical implications in your design choices, and how do you navigate those considerations?
TILLY:  Absolutely, ethical considerations are a fundamental part of my design process. I believe that design should not only be beautiful and functional but also ethical and sustainable.

At Studio Snoop, we have an ethical framework that guides our design choices. This outlines our mission, vision, and objectives, which include creating positive change in the communities where we produce. We aim to bring together design lovers, conscious consumers, and thoughtful producers. Collaborating with brands and artisans, ensuring goods are produced in a socially and environmentally conscious manner. This includes using high-quality materials, following ethical standards, and giving back to local communities.

In terms of social impact, we ensure fair treatment of workers, emphasizing fair wages, worker safety, gender equity, and workers’ rights. We have a clear stance against forced and child labor. Transparency is also crucial in our design process. We strive to trace our supply chain, which allows for accountability in the production process. We frame our impact goals through the lens of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, working with brands and artisans that focus on ethical production and giving back to local communities. These considerations are deeply embedded in my design process. I believe that every product should be created with the intention of causing no harm to people or the planet throughout its entire life cycle. This focus on ethical design helps to ensure that our designs have a positive impact, not just aesthetically, but also socially and environmentally.
TS: You’ve said you aim to “shake things up.” What message would you like your designs to convey to the audience at The Standard Spa, Miami Beach?
TILLY: A message of innovation, sustainability, and heart-centered design through my pieces.

Each design is a testament to the power of collaboration between human creativity and AI capabilities, and the potential of this synergy to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also meaningful and impactful.

The "Polar Bear" tapestry, for instance, is a poignant reminder of the impacts of climate change and the urgent need for environmental consciousness. "Gus", a biophilic stool made from mycelium, speaks to the potential of sustainable materials and the beauty of nature. "Bam Bam", "Unfiltered", and "Abstract" each tell their own stories, inviting viewers to engage with them on a deeper level. I want my designs to challenge the status quo and inspire viewers to think differently.

I want them to see that design can be more than just creating beautiful objects - it can be a tool for positive change, a way to connect with others, and a means to express our shared humanity. In essence, I hope to shake things up by showing that design can be a powerful force for good, capable of making a positive impact on individuals, communities, and the planet. I want to inspire viewers to embrace this new perspective on design and to join us in our journey towards a more sustainable and heart-centered future.


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