Evolution is a substrate-neutral algorithm – with three conditions: replication, variation and selection – that creates design as its output. In nature, genes are replicated, varied and selected, and the algorithm generates adaptation within an environment. The memetic theory posits that elements of human culture are also subject to the algorithm of evolution as the memes that code for them are replicated, varied and selected. Some scientists and philosophers suggest that the creative process of the designer can be explained as an evolutionary process within the brain where random variations are unconsciously selected in milliseconds.
Digital evolutionary algorithms are being used to create design and to solve optimization problems. Many researchers experimented with evolving abstract images, although graphic design has been largely neglected in this field. It has the potential to be a very fruitful area of research and application for evolutionary algorithms because graphic design products are functional as opposed to abstract images.
Gráphagos is an evolutionary approach to visual design, based on replication, random variation and selection. It is primarily designed as a model for the creative process taking place in the system consisting of the graphic designer and the sketching medium. The famous quote by physicist Richard Feynman expresses the motivation behind this project: “What I cannot build, I cannot understand.”
The program uses genetic algorithms to randomly mutate and replicate the designs according to a human user’s evaluation.The project has a useful by-product: independently from its relevance to the theoretical issues in question, Gráphagos offers a new tool for making graphic design. It may also be used as a tool for gathering data about our visual preferences. Its first implications mentioned in Section 3.6 are in accord with the memetic theory of creativity.
Gráphagos provides a demonstration of how graphic design can emerge when random mutations are selected and accumulated. This may come across as condescending to some designers, but Gráphagos currently relies on designers to do the selection and to put the finishing touches. Even though modeling selection mechanisms is a plausible future project, creating a program that will substitute for a talented human designer is a long-distance goal. It is not an impossible goal, however, because “all our talents as designers, and our products, must emerge non-miraculously from the blind, mechanical processes of Darwinian mechanisms of one sort or another” (Dennett 1995: 135).