Tech+Art: Lysandre Follet


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"That idea of going from an algorithm that generates a solution, all the way down to a [product] was very interesting to me as a maker. "


In this episode, we’re chatting with Lysandre Follet, the Computational Design Director at Nike’s Innovation Kitchen.

Originally from France, Lysandre is a musician, designer and maker exploring the combination of technology & design.

Throughout this episode, we explored the benefits of passion projects from idea to delivery, the importance of improvisation, and the power behind computational design for creators and commercialization alike.

Question 1: At what point in that creative journey were you first exposed to the maker movement or creative technology? Where did the idea of combining technology and art or design to create something new - when did that come into your creative practice?

[ 5:42 ] – […] even in my personal practice with music, I’ve always been more interested by improvisation, rather than reading or reproducing to perfection – a piece. So that idea that once you have built and understand some creative blocks, they can be interpreted, recombined, evolve in so many different ways. Really kind of almost without knowing at that time, a generative system, because improvisation is really about understanding those logic blocks and then rearranging them into so many different ways by shifting the parameters…

[ 7:38 ] – That idea of going from an algorithm that generates a solution, all the way down to a polished piece of gold was very interesting to me as a maker.

Question 2: While I’m sure it varies project-to-project and has changed as your career has gone on, but you touched on the idea of improvisation there a little bit as part of your creative process. So can you share a little more about your creative process? How do you deal with the element of emergence or improvisation as you build an idea and explore what it could be?

[ 8:33 ] – Every time I learn a new skill or software when I work on a new creative idea, that has always been a source of inspiration and ideas. Because I realize that then I can connect that new skill with a completely unrelated thoughts and its often at that intersection that wonder happens.

Question 3: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you came to join Nike, more about this role, and specifically how you managed to connect these two worlds with this type of outcome?

[ 9:49 ] – A modular synthesizer is interesting format because it really allows you for endless creativity. You can repatch it in many ways. When I look at a modular synthesizer it’s pretty much like looking at Grasshopper – you have patch cables and you connect logic blocks together to make a piece that can evolve on its own. So at that time I started to play with generative systems on the side.

[ 10:34 ] – And I thought to myself in 2012, that we could probably do the same for footwear – you know? Instead of having synthesizer signal informing graphic creation, we could have athlete data informing the creation of a footwear product. […] And that’s how I got started. I did a research project at work demonstrating that we could use generative design systems and leveraging algorithms and data to actually define a footwear solution.

[ 11:34 ] – […] we were building the first ever computational design team and program in the footwear industry. So the thing is that at the time we could not even find anyone in the field who had experience in generative design and footwear. It wasn’t something that was taught in industrial design school. So we built a multi-disciplinary team, mainly composed of architects and mechanical engineers – and that was very different from what a normal footwear design team was at the time. And since then the work has had a massive impact on the design process and on the product, so we keep growing and defining performance products.

Question 4: Can you tell us a little bit about that evolution? What kind of team members make up the team today and what types of problems do you work on?

[ 12:24 ] – […] and we all work together to bring ideas to the table. I think that rich, multi-disciplinary background really allowed us to go after complex problems, because there is always so much expertise at the table. So a highly collaborative environment, and very iterative. We spend a considerable amount of time talking to athletes and testing products. So that kind of what is very interesting with computational design, is you can constantly fine-tune the model and generate a new solution, that can then be tested and validated or move on to the next iteration. So really like mutation you know?

[ 12:55 ] – I think that was very new, because before the process would have been to design one solution and then send it to traditional manufacturing methods, and wait months to even have it back and then test on athletes, and then you will have to pretty much rebuild it from scratch. Where today, if we are able to leverage new methods of making, like additive manufacturing or 3D printing, we can design one solution, test it, get our new data, feed it back into that loop – which is the beauty of generative systems. Is that you have that constant feedback loop and generation of new solutions.

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Question 5: How do you think & approach building your own tools? How do you build something new for something that’s never been done before? How do you balance data, experience and the end user within a new tool or physical product?

[ 14:20 ] – That’s a complicated question to answer. Well, I think it’s really about understanding what we’re trying to achieve? What are the characteristics of the product we want and what are we trying to change? And then really finding out what are the relevant datasets that we can use for that. What are the methods of validation? I think with generative systems, there can be a tendency to get lost if you don’t have a good validation method. So you can just generate a bunch of solutions, but you really have to put them through a testing and validation framework, otherwise you can end up with a bunch of nonsense really quickly. So it would be hard to describe how they all come together, but it’s really about understanding all those aspects and finding ways for them to talk to each other.

Question 6: As you look around and see generative design taking on a bigger role, what do you think is missing? What do you wish existed?

[ 15:13 ] – I think most of the industry is still heavily reliant on traditional manufacturing methods. And that’s an issue because they don’t really allow for the full expression of a generative design approach. Again, at some point you are stuck with having to freeze the idea and the design in order to mass produce it. So it kind of is a massive challenge for everyone in the industry. There is some transformation happening – slowly – but I will say that overall it’s one of the biggest pain points in the industry. Because I mean at the end of the day we have to mass produce those products, it’s not realistic to 3D print 1 or 2 of them.

Question 7: So do you think that’s where the industry is headed? Is that the biggest problem that needs to be solved?

[ 15:55 ] – If we want to plug it to the real world, to the physical world, I think we need to tackle finding ways to have more agile manufacturing. Some methods of making that really enable you to have a batch of 1 as opposed to have to make a million of the same. Because otherwise, of course generative systems will still have a huge impact – even if you were just to make the same over and over. But I think the beauty, especially in the world that we live in today, that has so much data and so much possibilities to create custom and bespoke solutions for individuals.

Question 8: What's the drive or curiosity behind doing these side projects? What benefit do you think it brings to a maker or creator?

[ 19:03 ] – Almost every 2 years, I have a new project that I commercialize in some way, through limited editions. And I think that’s an interesting process, because having a deliverable, having something that you shoot for is almost forcing me to stick with the process of creating… […] I think there is something interesting about that idea of delivering something so that you keep yourself on track.

Question 9: Based on what you’ve learned over your career, what advice would you share with a younger version of yourself?

[ 20:46 ] – Be very open to always, constantly learn new software. Because we’ve seen in the past – I’m from that generation where I actually learnt how to code in Flash. And I remember it was a very powerful and strong community. In a matter of a few years Flash completely disappeared. And there were a lot of people that ended up being a little bit stuck because they hadn’t moved onto some of the new, more modern languages, or knew just what the industry had identified as the new platform. So I would say for young creative talent, making sure that they don’t dive too deep in just one focused area. Make sure that you double down on learning – in parallel – all kind of different software, and techniques and methods. You can’t today just use Processing. You could, but it’s probably – your going to miss out on a lot of new platform that maybe can do the same thing in a much more interesting or easier way. And I think that is true for most of the software. It is a very fast, evolving discipline.

You can catch Tech+Art Podcast in the following places – or your favorite podcast app: