Making the Most of Generative Design

It’s not a replacement for designers, but a complement.

Autodesk has sponsored this post.

Two versions of a spool bracket designed with Autodesk Fusion 360 Generative Design and manufactured using additive processes. The left version has 2 and 2.5-axis milling constraints while the right version was unrestricted. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Two versions of a spool bracket designed with Autodesk Fusion 360 Generative Design and manufactured using additive processes. The left version has 2 and 2.5-axis milling constraints while the right version was unrestricted. (Image courtesy of Autodesk.)

Someday, engineers may be able to hit a button that says “Design” and intelligent algorithms will take care of the rest. 

If that day ever comes, it won’t be for a long, long time. But we’ve taken some of the very first steps to getting there. This journey of a thousand miles begins with generative design. 

Don’t confuse the destination for the journey. Generative design is not a magical solution to every design problem you will ever encounter. In its current, adolescent form, generative design is like every other design tool out there: to get the most out of it, you have to know the right way to use it. 

Generative Design, Redefined 

Broadly, generative design refers to technology that actively helps designers generate geometry. “Helps” is a key word there; a human designer is still necessary to set up the process and check the results.  

Generative design includes (but is not limited to) algorithms such as topology optimization, shape optimization and lattice generation. Different software vendors implement generative design in different ways.  

Consider Autodesk’s generative design product, Generative Design (note the caps). Integrated within the Fusion 360 platform, Generative Design essentially combines topology optimization with design exploration. Users specify constraints, optimization goals and loading conditions; Generative Design outputs several optimized designs that meet those specs yet vary in materials, manufacturing methods and other parameters. 

In this way, Generative Design does not provide users with a single, one-size-fits-all, optimized design. It is not a Design button. Instead, it allows users to explore much more of the design space than they would have been able to on their own.  

“We’ve seen folks arrive at some pretty unique designs with different manufacturing methods and materials than they probably would have considered,” says Mike Smell, Senior Product Manager of Fusion 360, who focuses on Generative Design at Autodesk. “I think Generative Design made it really easy to go challenge that status quo of how they’ve been designing.” 

Many prospective Generative Design users think in terms of end products, which have stolen most of the marketing thunder to date. But the technology has also had success behind the scenes, Smell says, achieving cost-saving designs for manufacturing tooling.  

Additive manufacturer PrintCity, for example, designed a spool bracket (pictured above) with Generative Design. They uncharacteristically opted for the design that incorporated milling manufacturing constraints, which proved to be faster and cheaper to 3D print. 

The Future of Generative Design 

As with every new technology, we can expect generative design to continue to improve. In the future, generative design may embrace artificial intelligence (AI) to produce better designs in less time and that more closely align with what the designer has created in the past. Most of today’s generative design software is powered by conventional algorithms and if AI is present, it is usually around the edges. Autodesk’s Generative Design, for example, uses AI to help the user sort through the long list of results and to determine when to stop the topology optimization algorithms. 

Generative design will also become more accessible. Many popular design applications have begun experimenting with generative design, enabling users to get used to the technology in a familiar design environment. As designers get accustomed and the software gets more capable, generative design will become an increasingly approachable element of the design process. 

For example, Autodesk just released a new design tool in Fusion 360 called Automated Modeling that is powered by the company’s generative design technologies but designed to expand its use and productive value as well as increase a designer’s creativity in everyday modeling workflows. The new tool is focused purely on easily, rapidly creating multiple design alternatives for connecting two or more faces in a design, while including the ability to prescribe additional design intent by defining bodies to avoid during shape creation. Smell likens it to a “super loft” style of tool.

“It will bring generative design technology to the masses, kind of an on-ramp to design exploration if you don’t have performance requirements or aren’t yet at a stage in your process to consider them,” Smell says. 

In the future, generative design will also improve the ability of humans and software to work in tandem. Workflow and interface improvements will help designers set up their problems more robustly, encoding more of their experience before the designs are generated. Ultimately, humans and software are better when they work together. 

“Generative design is a complement to your existing design process. It’s not a replacement,” says Smell. “And it’s going to be a long, long time before it is a replacement.” 

To learn more about Generative Design in Autodesk Fusion 360, visit