George Stiny

George Stiny is Professor of Design and Computation at MIT. He first used shape grammars for painting and sculpture and is the author of Pictorial and Formal Aspects of Shape and Shape Grammars; Algorithmic Aesthetics: Computer Models for Criticism and Design in the Arts (with James Gips); and Shape: Talking about Seeing and Doing (MIT Press).

  • Shapes of Imagination

    Calculating in Coleridge's Magical Realm

    George Stiny

    Visual calculating in shape grammars aligns with art and design, bridging the gap between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

    In Shapes of Imagination, George Stiny runs visual calculating in shape grammars through art and design—incorporating Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetic imagination and Oscar Wilde's corollary to see things as they aren't. Many assume that calculating limits art and design to suit computers, but shape grammars rely on seeing to prove otherwise. Rules that change what they see extend calculating to overtake what computers can do, in logic and with data and learning. Shape grammars bridge the divide between seeing (Coleridge's “imagination, or esemplastic power”) and combinatoric play (Coleridge's “fancy”).

    Stiny shows that calculating without seeing excludes art and design. Seeing is key for calculating to augment creative activity with aesthetic insight and value. Shape grammars go by appearances, in a full-fledged aesthetic enterprise for the inconstant eye; they answer the question of what calculating would be like if Turing and von Neumann were artists instead of logicians. Art and design are calculating in all their splendid detail.

    • Paperback $45.00
  • Shape


    Talking about Seeing and Doing

    George Stiny

    How design is calculating with shapes: formal details and design applications.

    In Shape, George Stiny argues that seeing shapes—with all their changeability and ambiguity—is an inexhaustible source of creative ideas. Understanding shapes, he says, is a useful way to understand what is possible in design.

    Shapes are devices for visual expression just as symbols are devices for verbal expression. Stiny develops a unified scheme that includes both visual expression with shapes and verbal expression with signs. The relationships—and equivalencies—between the two kinds of expressive devices make design comparable to other professional practices that rely more on verbal than visual expression. Design uses shapes while business, engineering, law, mathematics, and philosophy turn mainly to symbols, but the difference, says Stiny, isn't categorical. Designing is a way of thinking. Designing, Stiny argues, is calculating with shapes, calculating without equations and numbers but still according to rules. Stiny shows that the mechanical process of calculation is actually a creative process when you calculate with shapes—when you can reason with your eyes, when you learn to see instead of count.

    The book takes the idea of design as calculation from mere heuristic or metaphor to a rigorous relationship in which design and calculation each inform and enhance the other. Stiny first demonstrates how seeing and counting differ when you use rules—that is, what it means to calculate with your eyes—then shows how to calculate with shapes, providing formal details. He gives practical applications in design with specific visual examples. The book is extraordinarily visual, with many drawings throughout—drawings punctuated with words. You have to see this book in order to read it.

    • Hardcover $9.75
    • Paperback $30.00