How do designers design? What is creativity? Are we “godlike creators of ideas, manipulating and controlling them as our whim dictates, and judging them from an independent, Olympian standpoint”? (Dennett 1990) Or is it more accurate to see our brains as battlegrounds of ideas coming from imitation, communication and education, without an independent self in control? (Blackmore 1999: 210) We know since Darwin that all the design that we see in nature has emerged without a designer. Could it be the same with human designs?

Many biologists, mathematicians, and computer scientists prefer today to define evolution as a substrate-neutral algorithm – with three conditions: replication, variation, selection – and biological evolution as one of its material instantiations (Dawkins 1983; Dennett 1995; Nowak 2006). The output of the algorithm of evolution is design, as the myriad different designs of living things emerge in nature. Human culture is another layer of designed objects (language, clothing, diets, ceremonies, religion, art, design, technology, etc.) which begs for explanation, and evolution, the great ‘designer’, is the first explanation that comes to mind.

According to the memetic theory, every element of human culture is subject to the algorithm of evolution as the memes (the counterparts in cultural evolution of genes in biological evolution) that code for them are replicated, mutated and selected (Dawkins 1976). Memetics explains the creative output of artists/designers as products of evolutionary processes working at the information level in the brain (Campbell 1960; Calvin 1987; Gatherer 1999). On the other hand, quite independently from these theoretical questions, digital evolutionary algorithms are employed today in various design and optimization problems (Bentley 1999; eds Bentley & Corne 2002; Lewis 2008).

In light of this framework, I presented in my master thesis project an evolutionary approach to visual design, based on replication, random variation, and selection. What I tried to model in this project is the creative process that takes place in the system which consists of the designer and the sketching medium. I designed a program where every individual has a genome that is translated into a visual design product according to a specific embryogeny. The program uses genetic algorithms to randomly mutate and replicate the genomes and thus the populations of designs according to the human user’s evaluation.

The principal aims of this study are to explore the evolutionary theories of human creativity and to propose a working evolutionary model for the creative process of a graphic designer. Scientists, researchers and thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Susan Blackmore, Jan Michl, Karl Sims and Peter Bentley explored similar issues and their work is the main influence behind the construction of this thesis.

In the next chapter, I will define the algorithm of evolution and examine biological evolution as one of its instantiations. A discussion of theories of cultural evolution and evolutionary theories of human creativity will follow, concluding with an overview of digital evolutionary algorithms. In the fifth chapter of the thesis, I will review the existing literature on visual evolutionary programs, briefly examine graphic design in comparison with visual arts, and present my own model for evolutionary graphic design. After describing the software in detail, I will elaborate on some implications of the model based on an analysis of the output from different users of the software.