Collaborative design by coding

I have spent many years doing visual design by coding. I know I am far from the only person who designs this way.

There are very good programs out there, like Blender and SketchUp, to let people work with a graphical user interface to visually sketch out their ideas. But for me the power of working in code is just too great to ignore.

Using function calls and definitions, loops and conditionals, and a well-chosen set of primitives, I can quickly put together visual representations of what is in my head. The standard tools for visual artists just don’t give me the kind of procedural power I need.

But there is a problem when I want to collaborate: Other people don’t work the way I do, so what I do ends up seeming like a kind of black magic to collaborators and potential collaborators.

I wonder whether it would be possible to develop a kind of literacy in this style of “prototyping through code” for visual artists. It would be great to have a truly shared language for such things.

I know that p5.js (the successor to Processing) already does a version of that, but I find it to be limiting in its capabilities. Maybe it’s time to propose an alternative.

2 thoughts on “Collaborative design by coding”

  1. I think the problem lies with how programmers and artists think. Programmers think by asking IF something is possible, while artists ask HOW something is possible. Coders understand they have the toolkit to create virtually anything, which leads to questions of IF something could be done. Artists think by HOW something is done because artists want to capture the feeling of something and want to understand HOW someone made what they made––their thought process. Programmers are generally people who know how to create, while artists are people who know how to apply. As a result, I think this is why some artists are so amazed at what you do because they know how to master the tools they already have and do not think of just creating a tool to help them.

  2. Good point.

    On the other hand, many artists build their own tools in many media, and have done so for centuries. People design and construct paintbrushes, musical instruments, woodworking tools and all sorts of things to make their art.

    So the tradition of “artist/engineer” is a long and storied one, which I suspect involves every art form.

    I think that at some points in my process I am being what people would general label a scientist or engineer, and at other points in the same process I am being what people would generally label an artist or designer.

    For me the ideal would be to teach kids how to freely move between wearing those four kinds of creative hats — artist, scientist, designer, engineer — depending on what they need to accomplish at any given moment.

    That was the vision of Rich Gold many years ago, and I think he was absolutely right.

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