This article attempts to solve the problem of efficient design of proportional + integral + derivative (PID) controller applied to popular automatic voltage regulator (AVR) system by employing recently introduced symbiotic organisms search (SOS) algorithm, for the first time. PID controller design needs proper determination of three control parameters. Such a design problem can be taken as an optimization task and SOS is invoked to find out better controller parameters through a new cost function defined in the paper, which allows to evaluate the control behavior in both time-domain and frequency-domain. For the performance analysis, distinct analysis techniques are deployed such as transient response analysis, root locus analysis and bode analysis. Besides, robustness analysis of the closed-loop control system tuned by SOS is performed with regard to parameter uncertainties and external disturbance. The efficacy of the presented technique is widely illustrated by comparing the obtained results with those reported in some prestigious journals and it is shown that our proposal leads to a more satisfactory control performance from the perspective of both time-domain and frequency-domain specifications while with a good robustness to parameter uncertainties and unknown changes in the system output. (C) 2018 Karabuk University. Publishing services by Elsevier B.V.