Counterfactuals for Design: A Model-Agnostic Method For Design Recommendations

by   Lyle Regenwetter, et al.

We introduce Multi-Objective Counterfactuals for Design (MCD), a novel method for counterfactual optimization in design problems. Counterfactuals are hypothetical situations that can lead to a different decision or choice. In this paper, the authors frame the counterfactual search problem as a design recommendation tool that can help identify modifications to a design, leading to better functional performance. MCD improves upon existing counterfactual search methods by supporting multi-objective queries, which are crucial in design problems, and by decoupling the counterfactual search and sampling processes, thus enhancing efficiency and facilitating objective tradeoff visualization. The paper demonstrates MCD's core functionality using a two-dimensional test case, followed by three case studies of bicycle design that showcase MCD's effectiveness in real-world design problems. In the first case study, MCD excels at recommending modifications to query designs that can significantly enhance functional performance, such as weight savings and improvements to the structural safety factor. The second case study demonstrates that MCD can work with a pre-trained language model to suggest design changes based on a subjective text prompt effectively. Lastly, the authors task MCD with increasing a query design's similarity to a target image and text prompt while simultaneously reducing weight and improving structural performance, demonstrating MCD's performance on a complex multimodal query. Overall, MCD has the potential to provide valuable recommendations for practitioners and design automation researchers looking for answers to their “What if” questions by exploring hypothetical design modifications and their impact on multiple design objectives. The code, test problems, and datasets used in the paper are available to the public at


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