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News / Interactive

Penguin reissues Richard Dawkins books with unique covers, illustrating evolutionary variation

Penguin Books is reissuing three of ethologist and anthropologist Richard Dawkins’ seminal works, each copy wrapped in one of thousands of unique jacket covers, in support of an online interactive creative project designed to explain the topic of genetic variation and “witness evolution in action.”

The simple, bold designs graphically communicate the singularity of genetic selection, with each and every copy of the three books in question carrying a unique variation of its respective motif — The Blind Watchmaker (1986) will carry unique “biomorph” insect wireframes; Climbing Mount Improbable (1996) features shell designs; Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) bears the design of light wavelengths, varied in pattern presented in their appropriate corresponding colours.

These so-called “biomorphs”, of which no two are exactly the same, were generated by a newly rewritten version of an algorithm originally conceived and coded 30 years ago in Pascal. As such, graphically speaking, the covers naturally required a bold and minimalistic design so as to strikingly accommodate the enormous variety of “biomorphic” designs, which would often include overlapping and were furthermore required to successfully brand the three books together as a series.

Celebrating the revival and redevelopment of this evolutionary computer programme, which is is said to be one of the earliest examples of programmatic artificial life, Penguin’s Creative Technology team (lead by Claudia Toia, Mathieu Triay and Matthew Young) have designed an interactive interface for the programme online, available to play with for free at Mount Improbable.

Here, visitors can use the tool to toy with nature, modelling evolution through stimulated artificial selection — that is a conscious determination of preferable features, just as you might breed an animal or cultivate a crop. Beginning with a single parent “biomorph” one determines the presence and expression of various ‘genetic’ traits, pruning the branches of the visualised evolutionary family tree. Richard Dawkins explains that, “a few minutes of playing with this programme gives you a hands-on, vivid feeling for how Darwinian selection works.”

Lead creative technologist, Mathieu Triay spoke to their intentions to engage audiences, using the interface as both a clever marketing tool and as “an interactive entry point to [Dawkins’] books to entertain and inform a new generation of readers, gamers, designers and curious minds,” tying together the ideas expressed in the books by offering a visual and practical tool towards understanding the complex processes of evolution tackled throughout Dawkins’ prolific career.

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An example of artificial selection, made using the Mount Improbable programme. Insects.

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An example of slight variations, from the Mount Improbable programme. Shells.