The topology optimization is a method of computer-aided product development. It helps to recognize the potential for optimization in the development process of a product. The method is mostly used in the lightweight construction technology to support the engineers. The software generates, within a defined design space, design proposals that demonstrate, how the material can be reduced. The result is a product, that consumes only the material, that is necessary for the requirement.

"In addition, it is a misunderstanding, that i am against new products. I just want them produced from sustainable resources."
Prof. Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek

Problem definition

In many disciplines such as motorsport, cycling or the aerospace sector the method has established itself and is indispensable. However, the transfer of the findings into everyday life is missing. The products are still made of conventional materials and are heavy. Particularly in the case of products that everyone needs and uses, the material consumption is enormous. From an ecological point of view, any material we save is relevant, since we consume more than the nature can reproduce. By saving materials we can create, economic, ecologic and ergonomic benefits.

The development of marketable products is time consuming and expensive. Especially the creation of physical prototypes. To much time spending tests with physical prototypes can break a companys neck. But when a company launches a product to early without been tested enough it can be fatal also. Nevertheless a company must be competitive and innovative. So they have to bring their product a little bit earlier than the competitor.

By bringing design and topology optimization together the development of products is much shorter and the result is more robust and durable. But the design proposal of the program is not a finished design and can't be produced. It does not take production restrictions and ergonomics into account. The created structure is more similar to those of a bone lattice. The challenge is to optimize the product, produce it cost-effective and design it very well.

Research approach

How does the topology optimization have an effect on the aesthetics of the products?
How can designers and engineers create products with this method?
How can the design process change through optimization?
How can we create a design language with topology optimization?
How can we save the quality by reducing the material? How can we raise the awareness of designers to use the topology optimization?
What is the function of the designer for the development of optimized products?
How does the interdisciplinary work effects on the design?


The goal of our work is to show how the topology optimization can be integrated in product design and what advantages and disadvantages it has for designer and the design process. The theoretical Work will be presented and proven with two prototypes from a comparable system. For this we will create physical prototypes to make the usability to be experienced.

The picture shows an excerpt of the optimized shapes, which were inspiring for the stool design. Due to the different load cases and stages of material reduction, we were able to generate a lot of variety of design during a short time. Each version could be designed to a whole new product. The simple shapes gave us the space to find which parameters have an impact on the designspace.

During the development of the stool we have asked ourselves how we can use the results of the optimization as an inspiration for a new product. For this purpose, we have optimized a variety of archetypal seating at the same load from zero percent to hundred percent reduced material and visualized and evaluated the result. The result were interesting shapes and design highlights. The interesting advantage is, no matter how extraordinary they are, they contribute significantly to the rigidity of the product.

The product is manufactured of three identical bent and riveted aluminium sheets. For the realization we worked together with a located and traditional metal sheet manufacture. The two-dimensional sheets were bent into a three-dimensional form, which creates a high rigidity. To protect the stool from corrosion, it is podercoated, which creates a smooth surface.

The second demonstrator of our work is a bicycle saddle. It is different to the stool because of the complex ergonomic requirements. The saddle must provide a high level of comfort and showing no weaknesses during a long term use. We wanted to design the saddle using directly the computer generated structure. The task for us as designer was to make the product ready for the production taking consideration of the ergonomics. Important during the optimization is always a clear definition of the requirements. Especially the design space, the load points and the suspensions should be clearly indicated.

The final design is based on three different stages of reduced material. The design of the openings are based on the computer calculated structures. Depending on the model you can see how finally the essence, a filigran frame, which is necessary for the rigidity, remains.

For designers working with the optimization provides a possibility to stand out of well-known design and set new aesthetic standards. By creating a variety of designs the method can be a source of inspiration, which can be a basis for something new. Also the topology optimization can be used during the process to test the ideas on their rigidity. The topology optimization will play an important role in the future of product design. It is the solution, how we can design and develop products without sacrificing quality.

The master thesis was created with Thomas Schlüter.