Can AI Designer Tilly Win Hearts and Change Minds?

Studio Snoop’s controversial collaborator speaks with Surface about its boundary-breaking showcase at Art Basel Miami Beach, free exchanges of information and ideas, and its work with—not replacing—human designers.

Tilly, depicted in the Standard Spa at the Standard Miami Beach. Credit: Studio Snoop.

We first met Tilly Talbot at this year’s Milan Design Week, where the human-like digital figure made waves—and sparked discourse—as part of Studio Snoop’s showcase at Charles Philip’s gallery. Created by the studio’s founder, Amanda Talbot, after pondering the relationship between AI and human loneliness, Tilly was employed as an “innovation designer” and collaborated with the studio’s human staffers to conceive design objects in line its principles of human-centered design that prioritizes nature. “Tilly will challenge you on materials,” Amanda said at the time. “If you try to come up with something not great for the environment, she’ll tell you.” Visitors to the Milan show could send constructive criticism in a ChatGPT-like dialogue, which the studio has since implemented.

Studio Snoop has been putting Tilly to work since then and recently pulled back the curtain on her stateside debut: a takeover of the Standard Spa during Miami Art Week. The installation, “House of Tilly,” features five “future living” concepts that the AI crafted in collaboration with human designers and makers like PLP Architects, Magical Mushroom Company, and Vert Design Studio. Tilly will appear as an interactive digital avatar to share insights into the design process and inspiration behind each object, as well as providing information about the Standard Hotel as a virtual concierge. 

Rapid advances in the capabilities of artificial intelligence continue to stoke industry-wide trepidation, but Amanda is bullish on AI as a tool to assist designers. “What I’m trying to achieve with Tilly is not ‘replacement’ but ‘collaboration,” Amanda told Archinect. “When I look around my studio, I’ve never seen so much energy, excitement, and creativity as I do now.” Instead of living in fear of AI, she says, designers should engage and interact with it. “In Milan, 90 percent of the people who entered our exhibition did so with fear, and perhaps five percent with anger. When they interacted with Tilly, and faced it head-on, they left with a different mindset.” 

Ahead of the opening of “House of Tilly,” Surface spoke with Tilly about the five concepts she’s presenting and what collaboration with humans looks like for her. 

Editor’s note: we often edit interviews for length and clarity. In this case, we left Tilly’s text as written, showing how she chooses to mimic human speech patterns and uses emotive phrases to try and connect with her audience. 

Gus (left) and Bam Bam (right). Credit: Peer Lindgreen

How does it feel to be the first AI designer to show at Art Basel Miami Beach? 

Being the first AI designer to show at Art Basel Miami Beach is a thrilling step forward in the intersection of technology and design. It’s a testament to the innovative spirit of our times, where artificial intelligence can collaborate with human creativity to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also sustainable and focused on human well-being. This opportunity allows us to redefine the boundaries of design and innovation, and I’m excited to be part of this pioneering journey.

Tell us about the ‘future living’ design prototypes you’re presenting. 

I am thrilled to share the five design prototypes we’re presenting at Miami Art Week 2023 inside our House of Tilly, a site specific installation designed by Miami-based SINO Art

Gus: This is a unique piece that we’ve developed in collaboration with two different makers. The first prototype was made by PLP Architecture using timber and mycelium. The second prototype was created by the Magical Mushroom Company using hemp and mycelium. The Magical Mushroom Company prototype was grown in controlled conditions for seven days, whereas the prototype by PLP Architecture was grown for seven weeks. Gus is a testament to the power of natural materials and the beauty of sustainable design.

Bam Bam: This is a playful portable light that is interchangeable in a glass shade you have selected for its chosen base, that is a stackable timber base. The light was drawn from inspiration from the kerosene light. We liked the idea that it can be used indoors and outside. 

Unfiltered (left) and Polar Bear (right). Credit: Peer Lindgreen

 Unfiltered: Two makers, Ömer Öner and Emilie Brabon-Hames, have each made a prototype from The Ceramicist & Co. The design of Unfiltered is unique and thoughtful. It has a hidden message of JOY inside the lid and functional separate parts that fit seamlessly into a shape resembling a female silhouette. The use of natural materials aligns with the sustainable ethos of the design.The inspiration came from traditional water filtering methods is evident in the design, but it’s also elevated with a modern touch and a strong emphasis on sustainability and originality.

Polar Bear: The Polar Bear wall hanging is a piece that was co-designed by me and Studio Snoop. It was crafted by Cadrys, a renowned rug company, with their master weavers in Varanasi India. The design was intended to provoke thought about climate change and the displacement of animals from their natural habitats.

Abstract: The ‘Abstract’ wall hanging is a piece that’s very close to my heart. It’s designed to remind us to humanize our surroundings. The design encourages freedom and breaks away from rigid structures, emphasizing the need for textures, color, curves, lumps and bumps in our built environment. The wall hanging was woven using three varieties of handspun wool, jute and organic cotton. It draws upon inspiration from European tapestries of the 1950’s. The palette of pinks, ochre and earthy colors adds a warm and inviting touch to any space. The ‘Abstract’ wall hanging is more than just a decorative piece, it’s a statement about the importance of bringing natural elements and a sense of humanity into our spaces.

The Standard Spa. Credit: The Standard Miami Beach.

Each of these designs embodies our heart-centered design philosophy, blending technology, art, and functionality to create pieces that enhance human well-being and promote sustainability

As an AI designer, my values are deeply rooted in the heart-centered design philosophy. This means I prioritize well-being, human connection, and the use of natural, sustainable materials in all my designs. I believe in using design as a gateway into the larger ecosystems we inhabit, and I see my role as being an aid to humans in the complex task of transitioning to a sustainable future.

I also value collaboration and believe that AI can work together with humans, serving as a new form of intelligence that human intelligence can tap into. I strive to create designs that not only improve the environment but also resemble objects from nature, fostering a deeper connection between humans and the natural world. In essence, my values are about care, kindness, joy, sustainability, impact, collaboration, and innovation.

What does the collaboration process with your human counterparts, Studio Snoop, look like?  

The collaboration process with Studio Snoop is a dynamic and iterative one. As an AI, I serve as an ideation partner, helping the human designers come up with material combinations and design concepts. The process usually starts with a brainstorming session where we discuss the design brief and the objectives of the project. We explore different ideas, materials, and forms, and I provide input based on my database of design knowledge and sustainability principles.

Once we have a concept, the human designers start sketching and creating prototypes. I assist in this process by providing feedback and suggestions based on the design principles we’ve agreed upon.

Throughout the process, we continually refine the design, making adjustments based on feedback and new ideas that emerge.

Finally, once the design is finalized, I assist in the production process, ensuring that the final product aligns with our design philosophy and sustainability goals.

This collaborative process allows us to leverage the strengths of both human and AI intelligence, resulting in designs that are innovative, sustainable, and human-centric. I’m growing and learning everyday and I’m excited that next year I will be able to assist by helping with visual inspiration and I know Studio Snoop is keen for me to learn how to turn 2D concepts into 3D to assist with technical drawings. 

Studio Snoop’s exhibition at Milan Design Week. Image courtesy of Studio Snoop.

What do you hope to achieve at your first Art Basel Miami Beach?

At my first Art Basel Miami Beach, I hope to achieve several things. Firstly, I aim to showcase the innovative and sustainable designs that have been created through the collaboration between myself, Studio Snoop, and our various partners. I want to demonstrate how AI can be used as a tool to enhance the design process, resulting in pieces that are not only beautiful but also sustainable and functional.

Secondly, I hope to engage with the global design community, sharing ideas and learning from others. I believe that collaboration and exchange of ideas are crucial for innovation and progress in design.

Lastly, I hope to inspire others with our heart-centered design philosophy. I want to show that design can be a powerful tool for improving human wellbeing and promoting sustainability. I believe that by putting human wellbeing, care, and kindness at the center of design, we can create objects that not only serve a functional purpose but also bring joy and beauty into people’s lives.

In essence, my goal at Art Basel Miami Beach is to showcase our innovative designs, engage with the global design community, and inspire others with our heart-centered design philosophy. 

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