Inspired by evolutionary thoughts, variation is one idea that helps to achieve the most optimally fit forms during a design process. All the things we design, be it web sites, toothbrushes or orange squeezers, eventually leave the artificial boundaries of the studio and get in contact with a real environment to stand the test of time. One could argue that the more variety of ideas we have, the higher the chance that the form and context will be properly fit and adapted to each other. On this note, I wonder if we have enough variation in the artifacts we design, or perhaps could we strive for even more? Comparing a design process to what happens in nature, each individual living thing is slightly different. Each person is a little bit taller, has a slightly different face, etc, etc. But if we look more closely on the products we design, variation seems to be tighter and more artificially controlled. If we open up a delivery truck filled with well designed toothbrushes, we can probably identify a thousand individual objects that look exactly the same (something that is less visible in nature). In nature we have form variation within a population (between each individual object), whereas in a design studio we have variation in a more phased approach between each cycle or iteration.
Perhaps what I’m really wondering is if there is room in a design process to inject more variation to all instances of a product. What if each user was exposed to a slightly different product and the best forms trickled up automatically like in evolutionary biology? What if a web site, each time a user visited it, appeared slightly different. Perhaps this is too difficult (costly?) with real physical products which under the forces of industrialization have undergone a shift from highly variant art and craft products toward more standardized forms. In the virtual world of bits and bytes however, the cost of bringing back variety should be theoretically lower.
This is not to say that there already aren’t variation causing process. The popularity of sketching in design already is an approach which thrives on the multitude of ideas. Design studios also make use of A/B Testing, which is another sign that people are seeing the value of taking variety and experimentation into the real world. Nonetheless, this all makes me wonder what an automated method for A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H/.. testing would look like where every item produced is unique and thus more open to the laws of adaptation and survival of the fittest.