The Face of Code: understanding your tools

 

The Face of Code. copyright Timothy Klofski 2014

FACE of CODE, hand made digital, hand altered file code of layered typefaces. Copyright Timothy Klofski 2014

Central Saint Martins’ MA Communication Design student, Timothy Klofski, is learning how to code as part of his final year project. He is openly documenting and sharing his learning process through a blog (http://timothycodes.myblog.arts.ac.uk), and in this article gives a background to his experimentation with programming in an attempt to explore the boundaries, and barriers, of the visual mind towards code. In doing so, Timothy is developing a deep understanding of the mechanics of the digital world, and expanding his ‘digital literacy.’

“Nowadays a computer is undoubtedly the most versatile tool for any designer; most design software, such as Adobe’s Creative Suite, have valuable sets of pre-defined solutions for common problems. But how can design maintain its integrity as a craft creating truly unique work, if designers are left with only ticking boxes? 
Malcolm McCullough answers the objection with the following analysis: ‘Works of computer animation, geometric modelling, and spatial databases get “crafted” when experts use limited software capacities resourcefully, imaginatively, and in compensation for the inadequacies of prepackaged, hard-coded operations.’ Today coding is brought into design processes, breaking pre-defined, hard-coded what you see is what you get (wysiwyg) environments and making computational and generative design a major part of the design practice. As a graphic designer, I feel the need to be part of the programming community, to speak the language of my most important tool.

Programmes such as Photoshop give me the freedom to experiment without the fear of potentially ruining my work. However, this perceived freedom is always controlled by the parameters of the tools in the programme, so is never truly unique or original.

Amy Carter ( Illustrator, CSM Graduate)

I was first introduced to code as a tool, when I stumbled across the open-source vector framework called paper.js which is based on Scriptographer, a scripting environment for Adobe Illustrator. The idea was to enable an open-source alternative to Adobe’s Illustrator, of course Adobe caught on to that and has now blocked any sort of integration in their latest software. Following this, I was inspired by an Introduction into Programming held at Central Saint Martins. We were introduced to Processing as a means of creating quick digital sketches with code. I was immediately fascinated by the possibilities this software was bringing to the table – it was clear to me that this had to be explored. Since then I have been participating and observing the coding community by going to festivals, conventions, talks and workshops in the field. I am now coding/programming myself, as an autoethnography, and am using JavaScript in Processing. I have been exploring different learning approaches in the hope of successfully learning how to code.

 

Face of Code. Copyright Timothy Klofski 2014

ESC APE. Copyright Timothy Klofski 2014

 

If you can learn how to build a typeface, you can learn how to write some rudimentary code. – The problem is that people move themselves into a context, which is like a high school math class.

Jer Thorp ( Media Artist, ITP NYU )

British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow said in 1959, ‘I have had, of course, intimate friends among both scientists and writers. It was through living among these groups and much more, I think, through moving regularly from one to the other and back again that I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the ‘two cultures’ (…) I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups.’ Snow describes our society being made up of two distinct cultures, a scientific culture and a humanistic culture. The problem with that being, that they simply cannot communicate since they approach issues fundamentally different. 
And so it is to this day, that from age six people are put into categories of being good or bad at maths, this creates an attitude within defining ones identity. As being an ‘arts’ or ‘maths’ person, thus more creative or less so. I dare to believe that this pre-conception can be broken and that anyone, no matter what background is able to learn new ways and think differently.

I wanted to possibly distinguish different learning options, so I started documenting my process publicly in a blog (http://timothycodes.myblog.arts.ac.uk). My first attempt was a self-directed individual study led by the official Processing handbook. I was able to get through the introductions and aspirations the project had. I started treating each chapter as a tutorial. I quickly learned the basics of the programming language (which is also called Processing), or at least that’s what I thought. After the third chapter, I was stuck. Procrastination kicked-in and the book was never to be held again. Succeeding this downfall, I looked for a different solution and found a highly praised book within the programming community called ‘Learning Processing – A Beginner’s Guide’ by Daniel Shiffman. It’s engaging and motivating as it takes on a storytelling approach. As Shiffman’s introduction reads, ‘This book tells a story. It is a story of liberation, of taking the first steps toward understanding the foundations of computing (…)’ I had a lot more success with this book. Nevertheless, I was able to slip away and procrastinate and not engage with learning how to code. I was demotivated and tired of the rules and structures I had to understand before being able to experience interesting outcomes and creations.

Lastly, I needed a new approach, something that would keep me focused. I decided to work on mini-briefs set by an actual person, CSM senior lecturer Dr. Rebecca Ross. This has been proving well and set a stone rolling: http://www.openprocessing.org/user/34403

 

Links and References

Open Processing   http://www.openprocessing.org/user/34403

MA Communication Design   http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-communication-design/

Amy Carter   http://www.amy-carter.com/