Tech+Art Podcast: Joel Simon


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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.

A Creative Director isn’t at the low level doing all the details themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they are less creative. In some ways they are able to work at a different level of creativity.


In this episode, we’re chatting with Joel Simon.

Joel is a multidisciplinary artist and toolmaker who studied computer science and art at Carnegie Mellon University (for 3 years) before studying bioinformatics at Rockefeller University. 

He is currently pursuing Morphogen, a generative design company and developing GanBreeder, a massively collaborative creative tool and network. 

His work often takes on a multidisciplinary dimension, pulling in ideas from art, design and research and inspired by the systems of biology computation and creativity.

You can follow Joel’s work online:

There’s a full list of all resources mentioned at the bottom of the post!

Question 1: How do you balance creating for yourself with creating for a living? Are they one and the same?

I used to think I wanted to keep my art separate from my livelihood. Not have one overly influence the other. But I think there this area of creative art tools, which I feel is a really interesting kind of creative domain and something that I think I want to be my work for a living. And then have art projects that have no monetary value what so ever, kinda be able to live on the side. […] I don’t see them being that different […] I didn’t think it would be possible to combine them [last year] […] it was after the floor plans project that I kind of started to think of serious generative design tools and how to build a company out of that.

Question 2: What is your creative process like?

I feel like it’s kind of just random curiosity and you build up random interests over the years. And then one day you’ll see something and be like: ‘oh it’s those to things combined together’. So in a way it’s like a meta GAN Breeder. Where a lot of creativity is just knowing what to combine together.

Question 3: What’s missing in the industry at large? What do you wish existed?

It’s kind of a very exciting period right now. A lot of people kind of figuring things out more so than there’s a big hole. I would day in generative architecture, designing for 3D printed buildings is something where there is more clearly a gap – it’s a very interesting research area. How do you design for a 3D printed building? That was the problem that really inspired most of my work. Because you have these new affordances of being able to 3D print a full building, but you don’t really have the capacity to design for it in a meaningful way. And even a lot of the designs look like traditional buildings. So even figuring that out, there’s ‘how do you design something that’s beyond human comprehension’? I think applies to other domains as well.

But maybe, possibly, there’s a way of engaging with a complex simulation – and guiding it. Tools that really kind of augment and enhance human creativity and intelligence to design at this kind of post-human, cognitive, level in terms of architecture.

In other areas of generative design, it’s hard to say if anything is missing. Because people can paint and they can create things today. But I think where things might be going, how things could get better is being able to kind of express things at a higher level. Where you know, anyone could make a drawing today, they could learn all these things […] but I think these technologies can augment and improve people. And hopefully allow them to be more creative, kind of allow them to create at a higher level. And what I mean by that is people often know what they like when they see it, and they maybe kinda know what they want. I like to compare it to almost like a Creative Director. A Creative Director isn’t at the low level doing all the details themselves, but that doesn’t mean that they are less creative. In some ways they are able to work at a different level of creativity, where they can express: ‘I like this, I don’t like that, show me more of this, how me less of that’.

And I think in a lot of the generative design, you see things kind of going in that direction. […] a lot of it is still very primitive today. But I think, if it’s like clients in architecture, if you maybe don’t know what kind of decoration they want in a internally in a building, but they might know it when they see it. Or maybe they might know it relative to other things, ‘maybe some of this, maybe some of that’, I think that becomes a very impressive and powerful method for creating, and I think one of the more exciting directions right now.

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Question 4: Can you tell us a little bit more about GAN Breeder? What’s it all about?

What GAN Breeder is about, I guess is a few things. One, I’m trying to develop some ideas around biologically inspired design, but where it’s inspired by the methods of biology more so than the results. And you kind of saw that in my floor plan project – where it uses these kind of gross simulations to get these kind of emergent forms. And I’m also very motivated by breeding as a design interface. […]

In machine learning, […] imagine some like high dimensional space of possibilities. Or you just basically just get numbers in, and some interesting artifact out. Kind of infinitely large, high dimensional space that humans are just very bad at reasoning in. And by networking people together, you’re able to explore it in this kind of incredible way. The value of collaboration there.

The thing about creativity is that it’s like a history, in some way, of networks. You know you think about Florence or the East Village, it’s about bringing together people in the right way, where they are able to share their discoveries, and like explore individually.

Question 5: How do you approach balancing usefulness & emergence within tools or the user interface of your tools?

I think something that focuses on surprise and exploration, does make it an easier thing – if that makes sense. […] I think this breeding interface does allow you to have both. But it does also require focusing on inspiration and discovery. And often the final things are then kinda taken to Photoshop or something for post-processing.

Question 6: What advice would you share with other creators / artists - based on your experience?

The sharing online has its pros and cons. In a niche world like this where there aren’t really that many communities or labs to join, you do have to kind of forge your own path a little bit. And I do think that sharing online is very powerful. The tradeoff is that […] if you try to optimize for things that might bet popular online in the short term, you’ll miss out on exploring really unique paths.


Here are all the most important links/resources mentioned throughout the episode:

Joel’s Website

Joel’s Twitter

GANBreeder / ArtBreeder



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