Can Artificial Intelligence design a shoe?

A quick run through popular program DALL-E 2 for terms like ‘Virgil Abloh-inspired sneaker’ or ‘Yeezy sneaker’ spits out a ‘best guess’ that resembles dollar-bin unlicensed bootlegs. It’s clunky, sterile, and lacks the narrative of what excites us about these designers. If we want AI to help ‘push culture forward’, these are not the machines for the job.

In rethinking how artificial intelligence can improve design, Deep Objects sought to create a model where human input was key, building an AI engine that democratizes the design of cultural artifacts. Built by the creative studio FTR (whose credits include Nike, PUMA, Google, Marni, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and Daft Punk), the team has been working on the project in secret for nearly two years.

For Issue 01, its first project, Deep Objects is starting with sneakers, creating a ‘decentralized design studio’ that’ll bring "1,000,000 choices down to 1". They aim to do this with their artificial intelligence engine H.U.E. (Heuristic Unsupervised Entity): a GAN model (a machine learning framework) they’ve been training for two years.

Why have a decentralized design studio run off of AI? For Deep Objects, H.U.E. is less about creating a tool that designs better than humans and more about building off the strength of collectively intelligent design:

“We believe in the constant engagement, exploration, and questioning of emerging technologies and tools. H.U.E. happens to embody that exploration right now,” says Deep Objects founder, David Stamatis.

“For me, an endless appetite to learn new ways to express creativity and ideas has kind of always propelled the work forward. Finding ways of building new entry points to design.” He notes that with advancements in AI, a more engaging, human-centric model is vital to improving design.

“The truth is, A.I. has already impacted the design industry in so many ways over the past decade. With the accelerating advancements of Diffusion models (Dall-E, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion) over the last year, the potential that A.I. will have in all types of creative endeavors has become more well-known and mainstream. People and designers are now engaging with it directly en masse. That is super powerful.

What we are trying to explore at Deep Objects is how a more controlled and proactive relationship between designers, A.I., and ‘consumers’ can lead to incredible design objects. We want to build a new model for the way a studio can operate.”

As a decentralized studio, Deep Objects is inviting a limited number of cultural enthusiasts to join as a part of designing their first sneaker.

On October 10th, Deep Objects will be selling 10,000 NFTs through its website, which will give token holders a pass to participate in the design studio for as long as they desire. However, just prior to the drop, they'll be visiting Highsnobiety’s Discord for an AMA on October 7.

Minting on Ethereum, Deep Objects' initial NFTs will serve as a pass to be a part of Issue 01. With it, token holders will be able to curate and design their own digital shoe, which uses game theory to suggest templates that users can then customize to their liking.

Once the 10,000 shoes are generated by the community, they’ll vote for a top 30, which will then be turned into 3D models. Finally, everyone votes on which shoe becomes a real object, which may include some extras like IRL limited runs for token holders, airdrops of 3D NFTs, etc. When the collection is complete, current holders are first in line for the next group of objects.

In asking if he’s worried about ‘group think’ during Deep Objects’ community-driven process, Stamatis mentioned a phenomenon he helped coin, the Limp Bizkit Paradox.

“Basically, when Napster and online music downloading democratized the consumption of music, what we saw was a large majority of people that just listened to a lot of Limp Bizkit," explains Stamatis. "Are we afraid that we are going to make the Limp Bizkit of sneakers? Yikes... The reality is, I have no clue what will come out of this, but that is extremely exciting to me— it's why I love design and the creative process.”

Whether you believe Limp Bizkit to be an iconic or regrettable staple of the late 90s, people liked the band for various reasons. Majority rules, which is why Stamatis believes Deep Objects' decentralized approach will help challenge design studios’ centuries-old top-down model.

“I do strongly believe that there is an alternative to the cult of celebrity designer, the starchitect, the figurehead of the office where ego is as loud as the taste that placed them in a position of power," Stamatis continues.

"Don’t get me wrong, I'm not against the Ye's, Virgils, or Zaha Hadids of the world. In fact, these are the same figures who carved the paths between industries that helped define my own career choices, which I'm grateful for. But, the master/apprentice model of the design office is tired. The alternative is a hybrid and it involves a community.”

To help ensure they’re getting the right people in their ecosystem, FTR is personally buying 1,000 NFTs from the collection for donation to design schools/programs, as well as up-and-coming creatives. Furthermore, 25% of all profits generated by each collection Deep Objects drops will be given to the Studio Opportunity Fund, designated to be reinvested based on voting and approval.

With a list including “​​cars, chairs, houses, and sneakers”, Deep Objects hopes this “democratic design” process will help it become what Stamatis envisions to be "the most sought after design studio in the world."

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