Parametric design as a co-design tool.

Published Categorized as wordy thoughts

What happens to the design process when designers design dynamic frameworks rather than static designs?


What is Parametric design? 

“Parametric design is a process based on algorithmic thinking that enables the expression of parameters and rules that, together, define, encode and clarify the relationship between design intent and design response.”


By creating a parametric design, the designer designs a ‘framework’/recipe for a design instead of a static design. Within the designed framework, defined parametric values can be changed and the design will adapt to the new parametric values.

Designers can invite more people into the design process by simplifying design decisions down to simple interactions: such as adjusting a slider.

I will present 3 different ways of using parametric design as a co-design tool.

Benefits of parametric design as co-design tool.

  • Increase design time for the designers.
  • Decrease the time used in implementing iterations.
  • Increase of ownership for the client.

1. Pitch, pick, iterate

A typical design process might look something like this:


design (creation)

meeting (feedback)

design (iteration)

meeting (feedback) → 


Most designers know the frustration of presenting an idea to a client and the iterations made since the last meeting wasn’t exactly what the client wanted. The client will most likely also know the frustration of a designer not making the right changes. So how can parametric design help us get closer to the final design with less going back and forth?

One way to be able to quickly find the right design for a client could be to generate an array of designs. This gives the client a range of concepts to compare.

The array is optimized outside the meeting situation. This way of using parametric design is done behind the scenes and is similar to a traditional design process.

A visual limitation of a simple XY coordinate is that it only allows the designer to present two variables at the time.

photo courtesy by Anne Mette Hatelius

2. Instant co-iteration

Instead of generating an array of options for your client, you can invite the client with you into the decision-making. The benefit of this approach is that you can explain to the client what is tweakable and you can sit together and finetune the design.

This changes the design process from meeting → feedback → iterate → repeat to one fluent session of iterations and decisions.

A logo generator build in processing | photo courtesy by Anne Mette Hatelius

As seen in the example above, the generator doesn’t have to be perfectly designed in UX and UI. The tweaking can be done directly in a very technical parametric software such as grasshopper for rhino. So long as the designer can make adjustments on the fly and the client instantly can see the visual changes.

However, it is also an opportunity to make the co-creation an experience for the client. The furniture company Stykka has been inviting its clients into VR to see the furniture 1:1 and make instant corrections.

video by @stykka.labs

3. Distributed co-design.

A custom design was normally meant expensive. This was mainly due to two factors. The production cost and the design hours used to customize a product. With the rise of 3D printing and industry 4.0 we now have an industry better suited for custom production. And parametric design can help remove the cost of tweaking a design.

A third way of using the parametric design is to bring customization to everyone by removing the manual design work of adjusting a design. A parametric design is designed by the designer and distributed via a user-friendly interface to be adjusted by the users themselves.

One example of such a service could be the platform Shapediver that enables non-designers to easily tweak advanced parametric grasshopper models by using sliders and drop-down menus.

Shade Lamp on Shapediver

Another example could be this gradient button generator by that generates the CSS code for the button the user has customized themselves.

Originally posted on 19.04.20