By  on September 22, 1994

NEW YORK -- Jhane Barnes practices a sort of visual mantra every morning. The men's wear designer spends her hour-long morning rail commute pouring over an endless stream of computer-generated patterns mutating kaleidoscope-like on the computer screen perched on her lap. She stops the program every so often to redirect the "growth" of the design or freeze an image that strikes her as "a possibility."

"I'm a software junkie," Barnes told an assemblage of New York's designer community at a symposium on her use of computers in design.

What looks like a hypnotic electronic game to Barnes' fellow commuters, and did make a few at her symposium dizzy, is work for the designer. Barnes must be alert for usable patterns as they take shape on the screen. Once the pattern progresses on some programs, the prior form is lost forever and Barnes must start the program again from the beginning to create a similar, but never identical, pattern.

"Yes, these programs do a lot of work for you," Barnes said. "But you have to be in the right mood to work with them. You have to be alert and able to make split-second decisions on whether or not a design is good because you can't go backward."

Barnes has become so enamored with the process that she based her spring '95 collection on computer-generated designs. Images born on her laptop during her morning commute will also anchor her fall collection.

"The main inspiration for spring '95 was fractal geometry," Barnes said.

Barnes used two programs that employ fractal geometry to grow patterns like crystals on her computer monitor. One, called FractaSketch, was developed by Dr. Peter Van Roy. Based on "linear" fractals, it repeats single lines juxtaposed at predetermined angles to form patterns. A second program, MandelMovie, deals in "non-linear" fractals. Developed by Dr. Michael Larsen, it "grows" patterns based on mathematical equations. Barnes said the patterns retain a structure defined by the equations, but visually seem to be constantly changing.

"It wasn't until the advent of the computer that you could explore the beauty and intricacies of these designs," she said. "When I got FractaSketch, it was really a doodler to me. I never though I would use it to design."

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