One of the things that really struck me about VisualIDs was something
that wasn't even discussed in the original essay--something that even
seemed to be conspicuously missing after actually working with
VisualIDs for even a brief period: there is ever-so-subtle a mention
of the `radial' generator, for example, as having `children that
could be interpreted as eyes and a mouth', but there was no mention of
just how supportive of that `possibility' the visual details end up
being--how cleverly (how artfully) they play on the human tendency
to see familiar meanings in familiar forms, even when there's really
Not only do we see `eyes' and a `mouth' inside a Radial glyph
invented by the machine, but the `angle-limited edge-children' (using
the terms of the shape-language) even appear as `a hairdo' and, when
applied recursively in drawing the inner sub-glyphs, Radial's the
edge-glyphs often appear to give the `eyes' eyelashes and to give
teeth or a `mustache' to a mouth.
When Radial and Line combine to form Figure, they resultant glyphs are
strongly suggestive of `animals' and `people'.
These were, I think, the first generators that I implemented, and
there was quite a punch to it when it started working and, out of
nowhere, the machine drew what I could have sworn was a turtle.
It's been really interesting to see what sorts of things are suggested
by different Radial/Figure productions: some of the icons in my
screenshots, I just can't resist calling things like "ninja", "lion",
"turtle", "urchin", "tic-tac-toesoldier", "warrior", "spider"....
I do wonder what other people would call them. What I've encountered
thus far is that, where I see Shapes as `amoebas', my wife sees them
as `thought-bubbles'; a friend of mine remarked that `shaving.htm
looks hairy', and my wife referenced one file as "the guy with the
These glyphs, which are formed by pseudo-randomly applying the
shape-grammar, really and honestly don't have any inbuilt meaning,
but it seems that they're so readily assigned meaning that we just
can't help it (in the same way that it's nearly impossible to avoid
the reading of words, seeing sculptures and canals on Mars, and
becoming fraught with cognitive dissonance when we try to cite the
colour of the next word: "green"), and
that's just... fantastic.
Accompanying the original essay were also some stylisation
options--merely alluded-to by way of example-imagery rather than being
outright specified, the list of ideas included glyphs drawn purely
with stark black-on-white lines, glyphs that had been colourised and
embossed, and glyphs framed by a couple of different types of
auxiliary `aqua blob' elements.
I have some ideas for how to implement some of the fancier styles, and
even some stylistic ideas of my own
(Cairo offers some interesting tools
like transparency, gradients, clipping, and various options for
stroking a path; coordinate-system transformations also apply when
stroking a path--I've actually already had some success using that to
render `calligraphically'), but I'm really not all that sure of their
value: as neat as the `embossing' idea is, I think that I can
appreciate it much more from a graphics-geek perspective than I can
from an artistic one.
As an artist, I find the whole `vaguely-familiar line-drawing'
thing to have excellent perceptual characteristics: it's just so
easy for us to relate to it--on an even primal level. It's
like... an evolution of cave-paintings. Cave-paintings for the digital
age? Indeed. Meta-primitive art.
As such, the direction in which I'd like to move, as far as
glyph-types goes, is toward additional impressionistic or
primitive-art-style images mimicking a broader array of fanciful
real-world object-types. My wife, for example, asked me:
"Can you make one that generates butterflies?"
In fact, under certain circumstances, certain generators do
coalesce to produce semblances of `butterflies'..., but it would be
nice to be able to tune the system such that `butterflies' could be a
distinct feature rather than a rare and happy co-incidence. The
definition of a specific `butterfly character' in the shape-grammar
would also open-up some additional possibilities for obvious
parameters: not adding too much detail (or, perhaps, too many
details), because we want to preserve the `primitive art' aspects,
but butterfly-wings do have certain universal tendencies that may not
be properly captured solely by the use of a generalised system of
polar-coordinate renderings of Fourier-series curves.
I can immediately imagine extending the visual language to include
faces (Radial); people and animals (Figure); butterflies, dragonflies,
and faeries; flowers and trees; snowflakes; etc. These should all be
fairly straight-forward, since they can all be broken down into coarse
geometric or trigonometric primitives with relative ease, and they
seem like they should all be fairly successful with many audiences.
Myself, I do sort-of like a lot of the Spirals, and I wonder if part
of their appeal is perhaps that they are, basically, sort-of
vaguely-similar to flowers..., or maybe the appeal of spirals is just
part my own idiopathy. These sorts of things can presumably be
sorted-out empirically with sufficient number of testers.
Even forgoing the fancier render-styles for straight-up
primitive-style line-drawing generators, I am somewhat interested in
expanding the algorithms to include colour (including fills,
background-vs.-foreground contrast...), and the addition of a
Butterfly generator provide a perfect canvas for that. I do think,
however, that one must be careful there: one should take care to avoid
`colour' being the only distinguishing characteristics of
things. I'm particularly sensitive to this because (is this evident
from the graphics on my site?) I have colour-aberrant vision, myself
weak' red, shifted over toward green a little..., so I do not have
anything like \the normal relationship' with the colour-spectrum;
and if you've only ever experienced normal colour vision, it's
almost certainly not what you'd expect it to be like); luckily, I found a
couple of very good guides to colour vision and colour design, written from a
Ultimately, it's almost certainly desirable to come up with ways of
making the generated VisualID icons basically `fit in' with the rest
of the user's desktop-theme, but that seems like a more bigger and
more difficult task right now. Of course, I'd be glad to lend an ear
to anyone else who's interested in pursuing that goal.