7 Days of Source Day #7: Variance – Better Design Through Genetics?

Project: Variance
Date: January, 2007
Language: ActionScript 2
Key Concepts: Genetic Algorithms


I’ll admit – this is some fairly dusty code. But I wanted to end this 7 (or 25) days of source release with this project for a reason: I think it’s a pretty good idea. I took it to a prototype stage but not much further – maybe someone will find the time to move it forward into something more functional.

Variance is a tool that lets you evolve graphics, from pre-built ‘sets’ of elements and typefaces. It combines some simple editing tools (you can manually change colour, position, rotation, etc.) with some evolutionary magic – you can select two different compositions and hybridize them to get a new set of graphics that share some of the properties of their parents. It works fairly well; usually within about 6 generations you can get a graphic that starts to look pretty good (starting from some jumbled random compositions).

When I was building this tool, I imagined how nice it would be if this kind of functionality was built into a ‘traditional’ tool like Illustrator. Working on a logotype, and are feeling a bit stuck? Have the application generate 9 mutations of your current design, then evolve those for a few generations until you get a result you like. Just getting started on a poster design? Pick some assets and have the Variance plug-in generate some possibilities. In both of these cases, the designer is still being a designer – picking the best results, tweaking layouts – but they are letting the genetic algorithms do the grunt work of coming up with possible variations. At the same time, they are allowing for mutations; often modifications that they may not have tried themselves. This is a very direct application of an Evolutionary Creative Process (ECP), which I’ve talked about before on this blog.

Utility aside, it’s fun to play with.

Getting Started:

You can see Variance in action here: http://www.blprnt.com/variance

To read more about the project and to get a walk-through, you can read this post (you may want to do this before you try the application)

You’ll need Flash to get into the source and to get working with it.

Download: VarianceSource(4.12 MB)


This software is licensed under the CC-GNU GPL version 2.0 or later.

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