The eyes have it: Computer-inspired creativity

October 19, 2011

Constraints on creativity imposed by computer-aided design (CAD) tools are being overcome, thanks to a novel system that incorporates eye-tracking technology.

'Designing with Vision', a system devised by researchers at The Open University and the University of Leeds, is breaking down rigid distinctions between human and machine. This should help designers to recover intuitive elements of the design process that are otherwise suppressed when working with CAD.

Traditional design tools, such as pen and paper, are increasingly being replaced by 2D and 3D computerised drawing packages. The uptake of CAD is helping to increase productivity and improve the quality of designs, reducing errors and unnecessary wastage when the goods are made.

However, the switch to CAD may have a downside too. The introduction of digital technologies often forces people to change how they work so they fit with the technology, rather than the other way around. In creative disciplines, this inevitably constrains the results produced - a scenario that would be a disaster for designers, according to Steve Garner, Professor of Design at The Open University.

"Creativity is a fundamental building block of the design process," Professor Garner said. "The eye-tracking system identifies which part of the design sketch the user is drawn to, making the human-machine interface far more fluid. The result is a synergy between human ingenuity and machine-based digital technology."

Professor Alison McKay, Professor of Design Systems at the University of Leeds, added: "The digitisation of design could potentially stifle innovation and exclude people with a lot to offer but who work in ways that are not compatible with machines. Instead, we want to create digital design systems that are themselves designed in response to the needs of real designers."

In the 'Designing with Vision' project, researchers focused on an early stage in the design process that involves drawing, viewing, selecting and manipulating shapes. This process is common to designers working in areas such as fashion, graphics and consumer goods packaging.

Designers who work with shapes tend to intuitively home in on certain areas in initial sketches, using these as a starting point to move forward.

However, this element of subconscious selection is difficult to replicate with CAD, because the software package is unable to 'see' what might be catching the designer's eye.

To redress this, researchers added eye-tracking technology to a CAD system, giving the digital technology a more fluid human-machine interface. This produced a design system that could identify and select shapes of interest automatically within a drawn sketch, according to the designer's gaze.

The system was put through its paces by groups of professional and student designers to check that it worked in practice. The tests confirmed that the combination of eye-tracking technology and conventional mouse-based input allowed initial design sketches to be manipulated and developed according to the user's subconscious visual cues.

"We are not Luddites, we want to work with technologies like CAD," Professor McKay said. "We envisage a future for design that combines creativity and digital technologies, and in this scenario, is able to support designers working with shapes early in the design processes, before the shape has been fixed."

'Designing with Vision', is being funded by The Leverhulme Trust.
-end-
The prototype design system is free to download from the project web site.

For further information:

Paula Gould, University of Leeds press office: Tel +44 113 343 8059, email p.a.gould@leeds.ac.uk

Notes for Editors

1. 'Designing with Vision' builds on a prototype CAD system funded through the Designing for the 21st Century programme, a joint initiative between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Led by Professor McKay, the Design Synthesis and Shape Generation project (DSSG) produced the world's first 3D shape grammar-based design system, which succeeded in overcoming a major limitation in current shape grammar-based systems - that of recognising 'sub-shapes' in early design sketches.

2. The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds is amongst the top 10 in the UK for research, according to 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), with 75% of its activity rated as 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. The Faculty includes the Schools of Computing, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering. www.engineering.leeds.ac.uk/

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk

3. The cross-disciplinary Design Group at the Open University is ranked 3rd in the UK for the quality of its research out of a field of 72, with 80% of its research graded as world leading or internationally excellent (2008 Research Assessment Exercise). It aligns closely with the OU's Centre for Research in Computing which is in the UK top 20 for its field, with 70% of its research world leading or excellent.

The Open University is the UK's largest university and a world leader in distance education, with more than 250,000 students in over 40 countries. over 1300 of whom are postgraduate research students. The University celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009.

4. The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £50 million every year. For further information about the schemes that the Leverhulme Trust fund see www.leverhulme.ac.uk

University of Leeds

Related Creativity Articles from Brightsurf:

Quantifying creativity to expand it? Better art begins with better understanding
Do different painting materials affect the creation of children's paintings?

Where in the brain does creativity come from? Evidence from jazz musicians
A new brain-imaging study out of Drexel University's Creativity Research Lab studied the brain activity of jazz guitarists during improvisation to show that creativity is, in fact, driven primarily by the right hemisphere in musicians who are comparatively inexperienced at improvisation.

Caffeine boosts problem-solving ability but not creativity, study indicates
Want to boost creativity? Caffeine may not be the way to go according to a news study by U of A psychologist Darya Zabelina.

Paper: As an act of self-disclosure, workplace creativity can be risky business
It's increasingly common for managers to instruct employees to 'be creative' during brainstorming sessions.

Want to boost creativity? Try playing Minecraft
Video games that foster creative freedom can increase creativity under certain conditions, according to new research from Iowa State University.

Creativity is not just for the young, study finds
If you believe that great scientists are most creative when they're young, you are missing part of the story.

To stoke creativity, crank out ideas and then step away
There is an effective formula for unlocking employees' creative potential, according to new research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity
The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.

New research suggests the imaginary worlds of children reflect positive creativity
Children who create imaginary parallel worlds known as paracosms, alone or with friends, are more found more commonly than previously believed, according to a study led by a University of Oregon psychologist.

Can tiny doses of magic mushrooms unlock creativity?
The use of minute doses of magic mushrooms and truffles containing psychedelic substances could induce a state of unconstrained thought that may produce more new, creative ideas.

Read More: Creativity News and Creativity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.