The use of genetic algorithms (GAs) for structural optimisation is well established but little work has been reported on the inclusion of damage variables within an optimisation framework. This approach is particularly useful in the optimisation of composite structures which are prone to delamination damage. In this paper a challenging design problem is presented where the objective was to delay the catastrophic failure of a postbuckling secondary-bonded stiffened composite panel susceptible to secondary instabilities. It has been conjectured for some time that the sudden energy release associated with secondary instabilities may initiate structural failure, but this has proved difficult to observe experimentally. The optimisation methodology confirmed this indirectly by evolving a panel displaying a delayed secondary instability whilst meeting all other design requirements. This has important implication in the design of thin-skinned lightweight aerostructures which may exhibit this phenomenon.