Designing with Algorithms
Made with Grasshopper by Ray Burgueno

Designing with Algorithms – A Trend in Digital Design Modeling

More and more design studios are starting to utilize algorithms to get the edge on their competition. Concepts like the BMW Vision Next 100, Chrysler Portal and Renault Trezor concepts have extensive use of algorithms in many of their graphic and surface design.

Using the Proper Tools and Methods
Many studios look at these concepts and don’t know how to approach this type of modeling. I see people use traditional software such as Alias to make each and every component. What you need is someone who is proficient in Rhino with Grasshopper.

I started teaching myself Grasshopper three years ago when I was working at Volkswagen Design Center California. After that, I kept writing algorithms for different companies and clients, most recently Faraday Future.

So How Does it Work?
Grasshopper gives us the ability to program every aspect of the design modeling process. Controlling each data set gives us the ability to make design changes based on other parameters such as distance or space.

Here is a Grasshopper algorithm I wrote that made a grille from a single surface. You can see the result here. It is very similar to parametric modeling in other 3D software. You are inputting a surface and then telling Grasshopper what to do with it.

Deconstructing an Example
I would like to emphasize that this is showcasing the workflow behind how I approach building algorithms. It is meant as a quick look into the process, not a step by step guide. I have placed links at the bottom of this page that I used to help me understand Grasshopper.

I decided to rebuild a simplified example of the BMW Vision Next 100. When I am working inside a studio I tend to write and refine my algorithms for weeks. The following is a quick ‘sketch’ algorithm. It took me about half a day to write. I will use my own car as an example. Here is the finished result.

First, we need to build an input surface that will guide my algorithm.


Export the surfaces as IGES and import them into Rhino. I open up Grasshopper and with a few short commands we have a diamond grid as a base to start.


Then I use the outer edge of the ribbon as a way to measure the distance and remap the scaling.


Here is where it gets complex. I basically extract the edges of the diamond and make them individual triangles. Then I shorten the edges to control my gap and after that I add a simple curve fillet. This gives us the basic pattern found in BMW’s great design.


The most powerful part of this work process is the fact that once you have written the algorithm, you can customize it and change the parameters in every step of the process instantly. If the glass changes or if the outer parameter of the frit moves, all you do is update the ribbon surface. Here is the same exact algorithm with some numbers moved around.


Since we are using NURBS it is very interchangeable between Rhino and Alias. Here is a close up after I import it into Alias and trim dive the surface.

Steep Learning Curve but Endless Potential
Learning to write algorithms is very difficult if you have never programmed before. You have to approach modeling very differently to traditional NURBS-based modeling workflows.

Understanding data management was one of the most difficult concepts for me to learn. Culling, remapping domains, flipping matrixes, sequences, serial, gates, ranges, data trees and branches. These were all new concepts that took me a very long time to understand. Luckily I wasn’t on my own. There are plenty of resources that helped me in my journey. Above is a picture of a 3D printed sculpture I made with Grasshopper. Links to resources are at the bottom of the page.


Great for Graphics Too!
One of the benefits I found using Rhino and Grasshopper is that it is also very good at making Illustrator files. Here is an algorithm I wrote in Grasshopper and imported directly into Illustrator.

Resources to Help You Learn
Mode Lab — Grasshopper Primer — Mode Lab was the first comprehensive guide I read to learn and understand what is Grasshopper and how it works.
AAD Algorithms Aided Design by Arturo Tedeschi. This book is one of my most valued possessions. I wish I had this book three years ago because it is basically 95 percent of what you need to know in Grasshopper. It starts from simple examples to very complex structures.

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