The tennis game was developed from a 12th-century French handball game called “Paume” (palm). The game became very popular in France and was adopted by the royal family. However, tennis rackets weren’t used until around the 14th century. These rackets were made of strings of gut bound together in a wooden frame.
By the late ’80s, technology had advanced further and the materials used were and still are, a mix of alloys, ceramics, fiberglass, boron, titanium and Kevlar. With tennis being one of the most watched and most played sports in the world, all the brands got involved.
Modern tennis racket has come a long way since its introduction over a century ago. Today, the advent of AI has made a considerable change in the racket model.
New Jersey-based design studio All Design Lab brings a modern twist to the tennis racket’s classic design with the ‘Hìtëkw’. The concept aimed to develop lighter and stronger equipment while optimizing its performance. To start this project, the design team decided to go far from the traditional designs. To achieve this ambition, they incorporated AI into their first design step, feeding text-to-image generative systems such as DALL-E with corresponding words to depict tennis rackets differently.
The designers commented that from the start of the project, they wanted to explore new opportunities and create something exciting to tell a new story within the sport of tennis. AI programs such as DALL-E and Mid journey helped them rethink the project.
Improving the design
Following the AI prompts, the designers realized that the majority of the outcomes were comparable to the traditional racket silhouette. However, this process headed them to a reinterpretation of the equipment’s common body that would meet players’ needs, advances their equipment’s visual language and improve performance.
After several attempts, the designers moved to 3D iterations to end up with an organic design. As they mentioned, potentially, in practice and real-life physical testing, a racket similar to Hìtëkw could introduce a new level of performance to players.
Though the key element of this potential was the absence of material, the resulting tool stands for its branch-like appearance, which makes the entire tool lighter. Furthermore, based on the Y-shape frame seen on most rackets, the organic trunk gives the user many different designs options.
As a homage to the upcoming US Open Tennis Championships, the developers gave the model a name deriving from the Native American people and their language. Thus, the name Hìtëkw was given to the model, explicitly focusing on the Lenape people, which were native to NYC. Hìtëkw is the Lenape people’s word for ‘tree’.
With this novel concept, the researchers hope to ignite conversation in criticism and support of the design. In addition, they try to illustrate a potential in the sport that has yet to be realized. With Hìtëkw, they attempt to create visions of a future around a principal tennis object in hopes of connecting to the companies responsible for making rackets and the design community.