What is generative design?

How do you create a new product that redefines your organisation?

The traditional method goes through a process based on reasoning and logic, from idea generation through research and concept development to testing and validation.

Here’s the problem. Even the world’s best product designers are limited by their own experience and their knowledge. Like it or not, human beings are biased. We have pre-determined ideas of what objects should look like and how they should function, from everyday things like bicycles to technical components such as an automotive gearbox. These absorbed conventions are deeply, subconsciously held. It is impossible for any human being to approach a design task without these parameters in mind.

Imagine the following situation (bear with me on this). A boy lives in a small town with a river running through it. Every weekend he goes to feed the swans with his dad. The swans are big, beautiful birds, brilliant white and graceful in the water. The boy grows up and moves to another part of the country. He’s grown accustomed to feeding the swans. It reminds him of home, although the river is different, the swans look the same.

If a swan comes on the television, it’s always white. Every picture of a swan shows a bright white bird. Without any more information, that boy would logically and justifiably spend his whole life thinking that all swans were white. This is called inductive reasoning. It’s when you make general conclusions based on specific observations.

This is the most common type of reasoning we use in everyday life, and it’s not perfect. It’s limited by the level of experience you have. Some swans are black.

It would be wrong to say that we are blinded by inductive reasoning. It gives us the fundamental tools to operate in the world but it is not perfect, especially in terms of creativity. We are restricted by our own experience, by legacy designs and by our own imagination. The study of reasoning in design is a fascinating topic, and one that is well worth exploring. For more information there is an excellent study conducted by researchers at the University of Denmark freely available online here.

Various iterations of a wall bracket created with generative design. They range from the very angular and square on the left to an organic looking version on the right

The evolution of a bracket component

Generative design: A new avenue for innovation

Generative design automates the design process. The engineer simply inputs the specific requirements, constraints and objectives and the AI gets to work creating designs that meet the objective. Without any kind of societal experience or learned bias, the AI creates designs that no person could ever have thought possible. Simply by creating a design to sit within technical parameters, it can revolutionise the entire look and performance of everyday products. It frees designers from repetitive tasks and it adds to their creative repertoire, often providing entire new creative avenues to explore and allowing them to focus on creatively driving innovation with new product concepts.

Each manufacturer has different capabilities, different machines, different resources available. The new approach takes these factors into account and produces designs that are optimised for each manufacturing ecosystem. For instance, we can create designs tailored for additive manufacturing, leading to significant material and energy savings making design a key enabler for efficiency and sustainability.

The ability to create designs that are ready for 3D printing without manual editing is something that sets Hexagon’s technology apart. The technology operates with high automation, efficiency, and speed, quickly generating results that can be used for 3D printing. By minimising the time and effort needed for optimisation, generative design empowers makers to explore various design possibilities. In theory, it can create an unlimited number of variants. Engineers can then select the most promising version from the generated options, often five to ten.

Another important capability is component consolidation. Rather than building multiple parts that need assembling, the generative approach creates single, consolidated components. The potential benefits of that are enormous. It saves time in production and assembly, and because there are fewer parts and there are fewer things to go wrong. Consolidation reduces the number of individual components and therefore there are fewer failure points and better structural integrity.

Traditional product design vs generative design

Feature Traditional  Generative 
Design approach Manual Algorithmic
Input parameters Defined by designer Defined by goals and constraints
Number of iterations Limited by time and resources Potentially infinite
Optimisation Designer’s education & experience Optimisation algorithms (similar to the principles of nature)
Complexity handling Limited Advanced algorithms handle complex geometries
Time efficiency Time consuming Faster process due to automation
Innovation Heavily influenced by designer’s experience, knowledge and creativity Generates unique and innovative designs without bias


Generative design offers a revolutionary approach to product development. It empowers engineers to break free from their own biases and unleash their creativity to drive innovation. It automates much of the design process by leveraging the power of advanced algorithms and AI.

The ability to create designs ready for 3D printing without manual editing and the potential for component consolidation bring significant benefits, such as time savings, enhanced performance, and improved structural integrity. This new technology is transforming the way we create products, unlocking new possibilities and redefining what is possible.

Computational design is a game-changer in design and manufacturing. It helps create smart and efficient product designs by evaluating countless iterations. It gives us a way to improve functionality while using less materials and weighing less. This saves money, energy, and helps protect the environment.

Generative design helps manufacturers make and improve designs quicker than ever. It makes the process of creating products faster. Because it’s automated, there are fewer mistakes, and the quality of designs gets better. Generative design empowers manufacturers to create products that are smarter, lighter, and more sustainable. It offers new ideas that make manufacturing smarter and more efficient.

For more information about generative design, visit the solution pages on our website.


  • Thomas Reiher

    Dr. Thomas Reiher received his PhD in 2018 from Paderborn University's research center for additive manufacturing, DMRC, for his work on the geometry optimisation of additive components. Based on his research, he founded AMendate GmbH to develop generative design software for industrial use. After Hexagon acquired the company in 2019, Dr. Reiher was appointed Director of Generative Design. He is now responsible for the technology’s further development within Hexagon's Simufact Engineering GmbH, as well as being Product Manager MSC Apex Generative Design.

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