The DALL-E Invitational: We Asked Designers to Create Rooms, Objects, and Other Weird Experiments Using Image-Generating AI

With the sudden explosion into mainstream culture of AI tools like ChatGPT and the image-generation program DALL-E, the past few months have seen lots of speculation and big talk about what AI means for the future: Will machines take over the world? Will they take over the design industry? How scared should we be? These are questions that require serious consideration — especially if you happened to read this insane, stranger-than-fiction investigative piece in the Times earlier this month — but at the same time, we could hardly be blamed for simply being curious about what these tools can do, DALL-E in particular. DALL-E allows you to generate an endless stream of fictitious images based on whatever prompt you plug in, and it’s insanely addictive; a few months back I went down a rabbit hole asking it to design rooms, to mash-up the work of famous designers and artists, or to create imaginary products from scratch, like teapots with nose-shaped handles. It was fun, so I invited a dozen designers to join me. You can see both my creations and theirs below, but first, here’s what I learned in the process:

—DALL-E’s images are often dirty looking, and messy, too — lots of weird visual artifacts and ambiguous areas — with the exception of images of simple, discrete objects. I was surprised that its objects and surfaces often look more fucked up and handmade than sleek or mass-manufactured.

—Many of my prompts included references to famous artists or designers, and DALL-E’s ability to channel them — with the exception maybe of Luis Barragan — was not impressive. I tried to get it to design a few objects in the style of Cini Boeri and what I got back was basically nonsense.

—Some designers we invited to participate in this invitational ultimately abstained after they tried and tried, but couldn’t get DALL-E to produce anything they liked.

It’s funny to think about such a crude, nascent tool wreaking havoc on the design industry, but these technologies are developing faaaaast, so in a few years it will likely be a very different story. In the meantime, please enjoy the weirdness that follows (or go make your own).

Sight Unseen’s images

Prompt: An entire room in Kyoto Japan designed by Luis Barragan

Prompt: A minimalist multi-colored bedroom in the style of Donald Judd

Prompt: A modernist teapot in the style of Barbara Hepworth

Prompt: A room with wall murals by Le Corbusier and furniture designed by Fernand Leger

Prompt: A room with wall murals by Le Corbusier and furniture designed by Francis Bacon

Prompt: A living room whose large windows overlook Lake Como in Italy, designed in 1969 in the style of Surrealist paintings

Designers’ images

Colin King, interior stylist

Prompt: A living room designed by by Rick Owens and Donald Judd with 18th-century Baroque furniture, painted by Vilhelm Hammershoi
“In a world that can be completely play, I wanted to see what a room would look like if one of my favorite artists collaborated with a contemporary designer using 18th-century Baroque furniture, and then depicted in the form of a painting by the poetic and subdued Vilhelm Hammershøi. I love this bedroom that DALL-E generated, I can see a bit of each of their sensibilities and their hand in the image.”

Rachel Griffin, product designer

Prompt: A multi-colored glass bowl in the shape of a paw on a neutral background
“Colored glass had been producing nice results, and a paw was a somewhat random form that is distinctive and has detail, but that might not be immediately recognizable; something that could generate a strange or novel form. The results are beautiful, and something that I would never make using any other method or starting point.”

Alex P White, interior designer

Prompt: Biomimetic interior grown from mushrooms with chrome and mud in the style of ’70s sci-fi
“I’ve always loved the idea of growing spaces literally like flora and fauna — houses that are living with us. I thought the material combo of mushrooms, mud, and chrome would be confusing enough to produce an unexpected result. Honestly this image is pretty much what I thought DALL-E would generate from the prompt, so it’s both rewarding and disappointing.”

Andre Herrero, architect

Prompt: Chrome chair in the shape of a motorcycle on the beach in the style of Dali
“I was after some freaky Thierry Mugler, motorcycle-corset, gamer-in-Ibiza energy.”

Su Wu, curator

Prompt: A rococo Chinoiserie chair in burlwood in a Carlo Scarpa building
“I’ve been thinking a bit this week about what visual tropes attach to a culture, and especially if that culture becomes a style, so I knew I wanted to use the term ‘chinoiserie.’ And what was generated, after a bit of fiddling, was much stranger than I anticipated, which has me thinking that maybe a strength of AI is the lack of nostalgia for a delineated sense of a place that was made-up anyway. ”

Vincent Pocsik, artist/designer

Prompt: Louise Bourgeois and Franz West make a chair out of hands in a Brutalist building
“I thought it would be interesting to see what the AI did with two different artists together, and Bourgeois and West made the most interesting piece. The Brutalist part was just for a good backdrop. I do actually think their collaboration would make something a bit more outlandish, but this ‘chair’ is pretty fun regardless.”

2LG STUDIO, interior design studio

Prompt: A shiny black patent curvy modern armchair on a pink backdrop
“This was fun. We started off thinking of Michelle Pfieffer’s iconic performance as Catwoman and wanted to create a piece of furniture fit for her. We love the shinines and sleek curves that DALL-E has come up with here. We can imagine carefully sliding into this cup-like seat with a highball Paloma cocktail.”

Sally Breer, interior designer

Prompt: A Gae Aulenti kids’ play house on the coast in Big Sur 
“I hate that kids’ spaces are dumbed down. They should be as chic and thoughtful and playful as the rest of our spaces! Gae Aulenti’s work embodies a playful elegance, so I used her as a touchstone for the experiment. I messed around with different materials, but liked the earthiness of this one in contrast to the cartoon shape. This was my first time using AI — wow, what a fun game!”

Studio Ahead, interior design studio

Prompt: Luis Baragan meets Schindler architecture wood in northern California oak trees sanctuary
“We spend a lot of time in northern California under the beautiful canopy of the oak trees. I’ve always been curious what it would look like to have a minimal, sanctuary-like space influenced by emotionally sensitive architects like Luis Barragon and Schindler, in an oak grove. The result from DALL-E is really peaceful; it makes me want to step into this space. In my mind you would walk into a space filled with our sheep furniture — with its soft, amorphous, sculptural shapes made of wool from Sonoma — have your mushroom tea, and ease into the soft forms, large volumes, light, and nature.”

Drew Seskunas, architect

Prompt: A building made entirely out of doorknobs
“What if the part of a building most associated with movement, a door knob, was used to create the entire building? How would its function dictate the shape or characteristics of the building?”

Nazara Lazaro, product designer

Prompt: A sculptural minimalist organic geometric wood seat without background, with a wood beaded cover, picture taken in 1985
“Lately I’m obsessed with wood-beaded seat covers in combination with a more contemporary piece. I quite like the outcome; I wouldn’t have thought about using the beaded cover on the front part.”