How did you discover you wanted to be a designer? I remember an idea from the cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky who said that it’s difficult to understand how people select their course in life—the big choice are practically random, but the small choices probably tell us more about who we are. Which professional field we go into may depend on which high school teacher we happened to have. Who we marry may depend on whoever happens to be around at the right time of our lives. On the other hand, small decisions are very systematic. The fact I became a designer probably doesn’t reveal all that much. What kind of designer I am, however, may reflect some deeper traits.
Studying design was a very random decision. Being young and knowing literally nothing about design, it felt more like following a very uninformed intuition. For many of us at global creative studio Domestic Data Streamers, our training came from ELISAVA, a technical design and engineering education institution in Barcelona. This school emphasized drawing a line between design and arts, striving to heighten the value of design by pushing it away from its free-spirited essence and toward a more analytical, systematic viewpoint. While our inclination toward data, statistics and numerical precision reflects this technical approach, we have always been driven by a desire to challenge this rigid perspective. Arts remain an essential component of our work, representing the blend we were once told was an impossible marriage.
What led you to establish Domestic Data Streamers? Our studio’s inception was rooted in experimentation. In fact, our studio’s name was derived from the title of our very first installation in 2013: a public street performance that captured the emotions of passersby over a 24-hour period. The director of the Contemporary Art Fair of Barcelona serendipitously came across our work and invited us to participate in the fair. It was there that we first created the Data Strings installation, which would eventually travel to more than 30 countries globally. The subsequent year was a whirlwind, transitioning from one project to the next, leading us to the realization that our experimental venture had the potential to evolve into a full-time studio.
After two years of struggle and lots of extra hours, we knew we had an opportunity. We committed ourselves to making data more accessible and crafting environments that encouraged critical discussions spanning technology, sociology and design through the use of performance, robotics, film, product design and visual design. In retrospect, I see our journey as a blend of luck, intuition and the clear privilege of being in Barcelona at a time when the city wanted to center design in discourse. The city’s culture at the time was reexamining design as a discipline and understanding it as more of a bridge between disciplines.
At Domestic Data Streamers, you were an early adopter of using ChatGPT technology and AI for research and design. What are some of your favorite projects where you’ve used AI, and what did they teach you about using it as a tool? AI has always been a natural step for us. We have been working with data as a raw material for a decade now and the kind of generative AI (GEN-AI) we are using today can only exist because of the huge amount of datasets on which it has been trained. We started doing our experiments with the early ancestors of ChatGPT in 2020 with the goal of exploring what we call probabilistic stories, specifically focusing on stories of gender violence. These stories, when processed through AI, revealed patterns that might be obscured in traditional statistical analyses but were much more vivid in a narrative format.
Since February 2022, we have been developing a program for experimentation on the development of tools for the re-creation of synthetic memories through image generation. The main difference with other image-editing software is that AI has the ability to create images directly from the description of a scene, and with some training, very high-quality results can be achieved at a speed of five-to-ten seconds. This makes it accessible and enables fast iteration, which is essential for working with a large number of collectives and individuals.
The applications range widely. We are already working with social workers, psychologists and medical experts in dementia and psychoneurology to understand the positive impact that synthetic memories during companionship can have on the progression of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or senile dementia. The first findings are proving to be particularly exciting and will soon be published in documented form.
We’re also taking this technology and these processes to other spaces, such as the reconstruction of the historical memory of refugee communities in Athens or the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. These communities, for various reasons, have lost visual documentation of personal moments, often of significant historical interest. Memories erased from the realm of visual culture can now be evoked with more accessible technology. These communities are generally excluded from access to the latest technologies, such as the elderly, migrants or patients suffering from mental health conditions. These tools can enable us to understand ourselves as well as communities belonging to other eras and social realities. We must be able to approach everyone in a transparent, responsible and collaborative manner; synthetic reality can be a space between fiction and reality, an intermediate space where we can meet.
As a designer working with AI, how do you work with human biases present within algorithms? The first is to acknowledge that bias is not inherently good or bad. It is a natural tendency for humans to have biases. Biases can be positive and helpful—such as choosing to eat healthy goods or staying away from someone who has caused harm. However, biases can be very harmful when they’re based on stereotypes rather than actual knowledge. The problem with AI biases is that they are implicit, meaning they are unknown to most people using GEN-AI tools. Such hidden biases can be especially detrimental because they remain unchallenged and unaltered. Given that GEN-AI’s workings are often shrouded in opacity, both in its training and data sources, pinpointing these latent biases becomes challenging. More than 60 percent of the data fueling ChatGPT originates from US datasets, inherently skewing it toward a Western viewpoint. Moreover, most of the data that it contains relates to the last 20 years, so these tools are inherently biased toward a perspective of the world from the last 20 years rather than the present—or from another time.
Our work in this area has centered on uncovering biases and then using them to amplify perspectives we previously ignored. For instance, we have created a biased GEN-AI tool with the perspective of a minority group to give more weight to arguments and perspectives that are normally marginalized and left without a platform to express their problems and realities. Positive bias in AI could be used to create more empathetic, representative spaces that help us understand the diverse realities of our time and space.
Are there any issues with creative AI that you feel programmers and designers don’t focus on enough? The rise of GEN-AI presents both an opportunity and a challenge. I see it in the universities where we teach; most of the students focus a lot on the what or the how but not so much on the question of why we design. There’s a risk of losing the soul of design processes to algorithms if we don’t remain thoughtful about the tools we use and the intentions behind our creations. While AI has brought efficiency, speed and certain accessibility to creatives, I feel that we run the risk of unanchoring ourselves from the philosophical roots of design.
Filmmaker and essayist Georges Perec said: “What we need to question are bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. We live, indeed, we breathe, indeed; we walk, open doors, go downstairs, sit at a table to eat, lie down in a bed to sleep. How? Where? Why?”
Why indeed? As designers, we should be able to better answer this question. Designers give shape to our tools, buildings, products and environments, but later on, through our usage of these, they give us shape. We need to understand how our designs shape us and then consider why we shape them that way in the first place.
You’re also the founder of Hey Human!, an artist residency program in Barcelona that focuses on data, writing, music, journalism and new media. What inspired you to establish this program, and who have some of the participants been? Hey Human! started as a way to bring interesting talent from all over the world to our headquarters in Barcelona. It was an excuse to have a day-to-day relationship with someone within different creative fields from different countries. So far, more than 400 people have applied from more than 67 countries. It has been a space that lets us give to the community while absorbing experiences and ideas that our studio would otherwise never come across. One of our latest artists has been the wonderful Ieva Jakusa, an interdisciplinary artist originally from Latvia, working on topics such as violence and open community debate in frictional spaces like old communist blocks in Latvia.
When it comes to design, whose work do you love and look toward for inspiration? In the vast expanse of design, several names stand out to me:
Disnovation: These rebels challenge the glittery veneer of innovation, making us question if that shiny new tech toy is really progress or just another plot twist.
Forensic Architecture: Not your average team of architects, they peel back the layers of human rights abuses using spatial analysis. Design that speaks truth to power.
Núria Güell: Forget aesthetics for a moment. Guell uses design as a scalpel to dissect societal systems—art that goes under the skin.
Octavi Serra: The streets are his playground, turning urban spaces into sociopolitical commentaries.
Pors & Rao: Think art, tech and a sprinkle of whimsy. The studio’s interactive wonders are where play meets profundity.
The Radio Science Orchestra: Music, theremins and the sound of design evolution.
Ruben Pater: Pater’s visual narratives provide a masterclass in design with conscience, like decoding the world’s worst bedtime stories through design.
In essence, these mavericks remind me that design isn’t just about pretty visuals: it’s about impact, substance and, of course, humor.
Do you have any advice for designers just entering the profession? There’s no need to define yourself straight away. When I first stepped out of the university, I felt the weight of expectation to quickly pigeonhole myself into a specific design role. However, the idea of prematurely cementing your own identity can be limiting. Think of life not as a series of labels to adhere to, but as a spectrum of possibilities. It’s like saying “Don’t just be a title; be an action.” Instead of just seeing yourself as a designer, perceive yourself as someone who designs, creates, innovates and evolves. Our journeys are dynamic, and the beauty is in the continuous evolution of our roles. Embrace the unpredictability, enjoy the occasional scare and remember, labels are best left for jars, not people. ca