by Demian Conrad
Learn to Code
Code to Learn:
by Demian Conrad
1 From Pencil to Code
2 A Survey of Coders
3 Qualitative Methodology
4 An Overview of Results
5 Visions of the Future
1From Pencil to Code
In 2017, my interest in technology led to the subsequent cofounding, with Pierre-Alain Giesser, Fabrice Pétignat and David Héritier, of a lab in which one could experiment with new technologies at the Center for Future Publishing, based at HEAD-Genève3. It was within this space that I had the opportunity of researching the inherent potential of applying algorithms to print publishing. For example, we explored the possibilities of autonomous page layout with the Omnirama magazine project (2017). We used search bots and algorithms to peruse the Web, downloading and laying out images and texts based on certain keywords. The Self-Assembling Book Project (2017) was an investigation into the machine learning potential of Google Vision, resulting in the creation of an autonomously created book which itself decides upon the sequence of images and does the page layout automatically. These initial projects had been made possible with the help and collaboration of creative coder, typographer and researcher Roberto Arista. The tools he developed were a key component in their realization. Other projects quickly came into being at the Center, such as Perpetual Printing, the results of which were exhibited in 2018 at the Triennale de l’Art Imprimé Contemporain at the Musée du Locle, and again in 2019 at the Porto Design Biennale, as well as the Weltformat Graphic Design Festival in Lucerne.
These moments in my career inspired me to delve deeper into these new methods of working, and consequently I began to perceive a real potential for evolution throughout the panorama of graphic design practices. However, I also observed a gap between what was happening in some cutting-edge studios and what was being taught in the graphic design departments of major art schools. This led to an examination of the questions surrounding creative coding and the beginning of this research project. It truly began to take shape after intense discussions with my team: graphic designer and professor Rob van Leijsen, graphic designer and creative coder David Héritier, anthropologist Nicolas Nova, graphic designer Daniel Sciboz, researcher and professor Anthony Masure, translator and editor Aviva Cashmira Kakar. However, before I jump into the core of the research, I would like to situate this rapidly evolving practice within a historical and geographic context.
Over the course of the last fifty years, the parallel evolution of graphic arts and information technology has undergone three major phases (Moggridge, 2009 and Reas & Fry, 2007). The first, which took place in the 1960s, saw the introduction of integrated circuits, an essential component of modern information technology, and the future microcomputer, which heralded the emerging field of computer graphics, a term coined by Verne Hudson and William Fetter of the Boeing Company. At the time, these practices remained “artisanal,” until they were upended in the 1980s by the advent of the personal computer. This led to the era of DTP (desktop publishing), and graphic design software that was WYSIWYG, an acronym for “What You See Is What You Get,” i.e. the ability to see onscreen an exact vision of what the printed output would look like. Pioneering software included Mac Paint, Aldus PageMaker, Freehand and Quark Xpress. Nevertheless, even after the arrival of this first standard software in the field, virtual practice was still based on the gestures of the human hand. For instance, to draw a line you used a virtual paintbrush, to create a composition, you would virtually move screen objects around by hand with a new tool, referred to as a mouse. Another major change occurred in the 2000s with the arrival of the smartphone and the World Wide Web, which made the world more social and participative. On the crest of this third wave came a new phenomenon: graphic designers began to program themselves, or to collaborate with programmers to create a series of new tools of their trade.
This research project explores the latter, that is to say the appropriation of programming language by the graphic designers of the post-digital era. While the term “post-digital” was coined in 1998 by Nicholas Negroponte, founded of the famed MIT Media Lab, where designer John Maeda officiated, and has been used by Kim Cascone, as well as researcher, artist and editor Alessandro Ludovico4. It has also recently been used by graphic designers to refer to creative practices based upon the growing utilization of programming, software and ad hoc algorithms. Consequently, in the wake of Ludovico’s theories that explore the post-digital mutations occurring within the publishing world, the intent of our project on graphic design in the post-digital era is to bring together and analyze the community of graphic designers who create their own tools using creative coding. The result are tools that are not subject to what is produced by major companies, and which fill particular creative needs. Consequently, the objective of this research is to obtain a better understanding and context of the various issues inherent in this movement in full effervescence, and to offer a survey with generational potential that will provide an overview of the most innovative “augmented” design practices.
We therefore set out to do some fieldwork, speaking with graphic designers who were active in the realms of typography, publishing and the creation of visual identities. We posited the following questions as part of our investigation: to what degree has “augmented” graphic design based itself upon software to improve quality and performance? What programming skills will henceforth be necessary for the practice of graphic design? In what ways will these coding practices confront the established visual codes of graphic design? How will the DIY coding attitude or technical “bricolage” work within a studio? Can we speak of a new movement in graphic practice? Where is graphic design headed in the digital era, when the world is a global village? And, last but not least, if graphic design was, at its origins, artisanal and artistic, could coding become the tool of a new type of craftsmanship? Silvio Lorusso’s essay (p. 25) addresses these points and provides key perspectives on these readings.
In the 2000s, designers began to adapt or create their own tools to explore the new possibilities that technology offered them. Even more interesting was the fact that they went so far as to challenge the monopolies of commercial and proprietary software by creating their own. In 2001, Maeda’s students, Casey Reas (see p. A.R 321) and Ben Fry, launched an open-source software called Processing, based upon the methods formulated by their mentor8. Processing gave designers the possibility of programming their own tools, based upon an intuitive interface that was easy to use, to facilitate the creation of visuals.
Despite the partial relegation of graphic design to the digital realm, physical objects such as books are in no way endangered by the advent of digital. This conviction led Ludovico to advance the idea that the relationship between analogical (atomic) media and its digital alter ego (the bit) will lead to a hybridization and multiplication of editorial possibilities in his seminal work Post-Digital Print9. Our intent is to provide a current overview of this from the respective perspectives of typeface design, editorial design, and the creation of visual identities.
Today, one of the most innovative projects in creative coding from an educational standpoint can be found at the School for Computational Poetry (SFCP)10, a private school in New York City that is continuing the work initiated by Muriel Cooper and John Maeda at the MIT Media Lab11. The intent of this program is to provide an introduction to DIY programming for creative purposes for both graphic designers and artists. Its cofounder, Zachary Lieberman (see p. A.N 270), is also the co-creator (with Theodore Watson and Arturo Castro) of openFrameworks, an open source C++ toolkit designed to assist the creative process by providing a simple and intuitive framework for experimentation.12
A bit closer to home, one can cite the exhibition Moving Poster, conceived in 2016 by Lucerne-based graphic designer and curator Josh Schaub13. It combines posters with animated graphics, and questions the proliferation of advertising screens in urban spaces and the ubiquitous use of smartphones. Three years later, Studio Dumbar organized the DEMO (Design in Motion) Festival, the first festival devoted to animated posters at the Centraal Station in Amsterdam. This festival showed the vibrancy of the international scene in this new method of working with type onscreen. The identity of the festival, a unique animation coded by Sander Sturing and Stan Haanappel (p. A.U 365), is, in and of itself, already a manifesto of sorts for this new way of working.
In summary, the intent of Graphic Design in the Post-Digital Age is to explore the field of graphic practice enhanced by code in an empirical manner in order to provide an overall perspective, something that has yet to be done. Our project will map out practices by providing a forum for those who have created them and go on to situate the issues raised in a critical manner.
2A Survey of Coders
Our research focuses on practice, and we deliberately decided to select as participants designers and studios that were actively involved with the commercial production of graphic design and type design, by way of editorial graphics and visual identities. Over the course of our research, we decided to focus upon the Swiss and European spheres of practice, but we also wished to maintain the historical link perpetuated by the American designers who pioneered creative coding platforms such as Processing or openFrameworks. These exceptions consist of two artist-coders, Lieberman, and Reas, both of whom are active on the international scene and who are deeply committed to creative coding—both its dissemination, as well as on an educational level.
The results of our research have been distilled into a series of interviews that have been compiled in both an experimental publication and an Internet platform. Our intent is that they be viewed as tools to guide and inspire institutions at the cutting edge of graphic design education, such as HEAD-Genève, as well as other researchers or practitioners involved in this area. We also wanted to explore the economic impact of these new practices in order to assess the scalable potential in terms of the workflow of graphic designers, as well as ways in which creative coding can be monetized as a graphic solution in certain phases of production.
During our interviews, we looked at the ways in which skills were acquired, an understanding of the training participants received, as well as the autodidactic path chosen by some, made possible by the availability of online resources. We also examined their points of reference as well as their technical and artistic influences, their studio practice and how they encompass creation and programming in order to better situate their activity within the context of the post-digital era. Finally, we questioned the ways in which participants shared their acquired knowledge and skills, since many of them are active educators or disseminators of knowledge through the creation of online open-source resources.
Our working group is mostly made up of active practitioners in the field. As a result, we wanted to focus upon the aspect of practice. We have no scientific pretensions, nevertheless we wished to include an academic advisor in the project. Nicolas Nova, an anthropologist working with issues of technology, assisted us in formulating our methodology. We were definitely not interested in pursing a scientific approach in which we would gather thousands of statistics and tons of data in order to postulate theories or formulations, but rather to examine the nuances inherent in this field and seek out criteria to determine quality. It is for this reason that we developed a set of interviews with open questions but a clear and precise agenda. The intent behind the nuanced nature of the interviews was to provide a space for exploration even as we guided the participants through questions of key importance to our research. The core of the work in terms of the evaluation and editing of the interviews, with a view to retaining only the information pertinent to the subject at hand was performed by Rob van Leijsen, David Héritier, Aviva Cashmira Kakar and myself. As we have said, a graphic designer can encounter difficulties when trying to establish general rules or theories. Still, a more academic approach remains necessary in order to scientifically formulate a theory. Nevertheless, a designer’s strength resides in relating skills and acquiring a mastery in the field of their chosen practice. It is for this reason that we decided to widen the scope of our research to encompass mediums of dissemination. Our research team decided to give carte blanche to the Bern-based studio Johnson / Kingston because of their hybrid expertise in both digital and traditional graphic design, but above all because of their approach to creative coding, which consists of a search for a visual code that is both experimental and exploratory. Our publication as a result became a field of exploration where we were able to experiment with the latest technologies and test our hypotheses, even as we lent shape to new narratives. Rob van Leijsen was the presiding presence behind our collaboration. Ivan Weiss, Michael Kryenbühl and Massimiliano Audretsch of Johnson / Kingston conceived the book as a reversible eight-inch floppy disk with an A-side and a B-side. The first part contains a more academic account of our research, while the other is an exploration of the multiple possibilities, a field of experimentation for machine learning (ML) where algorithms select, rewrite and reformulate texts based on conceptual “Sessions.”
Johnson / Kingston explored a variety of questions: How can an algorithm conduct an interview? What can an algorithm understand in a given text? What new interpretations can the reading of a text generated by automation provide? How can different approaches to a text be reformulated? Technically, this publication is based upon the classic Latex technology of Donald Knuth and is related to the contemporary technology of machine learning. Each paragraph has been analyzed through machine learning14, and, after a source in Latex is created thanks to a PHP interface, a PDF is generated15. Additional commentaries and a portion of the glossary have also been generated by the same process. Sandwiched between the A- and B-sides lies a more “visual” section, Part X, which features a sampling of the works of the various contributors, offering a means by which one can familiarize oneself with this new way of creating graphics, as well as an overview of the esthetics and languages endemic to this new medium.
4An Overview of Results
The fundamental notion, often iterated during this project, of creative coding and sketching is that it is not to be compared with engineering practice. Creative coding consists of the “sketching” out of an idea, and its raison d’être is providing a solution to a given design problem. It is probably not in its nature to be scalable, but rather to resolve the specific challenges of a given communication project or visual problem. Consequently, creative coding is inherently more “design” and less “engineering” (see Petr Van Blokland), which makes it adapted for dealing with specific or systemic needs that arise. It remains clear that, in order to develop tools that can compete with commercial applications such as those created by Adobe or Quark, the economics remain the main challenge. Currently, clients do not systematically fund the develop- ment of a given tool, even if they are often interested in it. Accordingly, a designer must find another way to absorb the costs of development. This is probably the reason that so many tools have been developed under the open-source model, with an entire community participating in development. The result is a methodology rich in a variety of hybrid approaches incorporating both platforms and languages, even making use of different media such as software native to smartphones (see Eurostandard, p. A.G 149, Studio Dumbar). Other practitioners work with databases stored on the cloud in order to rework the data on a specific project such as a publication or a website (see Johnson / Kingston, Tancrède Ottiger pp. A.L 221, A.P 299). It is also clear that young and up-and-coming graphic designers are very interested in creative coding (see Luuse, Sarah Garcin, Emilie Pillet, Eurostandard, Dinamo, pp. A.O 287, A.I 177, A.Q 313, A.G 149, A.F 133). Opening up post-digital practices has also resulted in increased inclusivity in an arena that was long considered a man’s world. One great example is Loraine Furter’s collective, Bye Bye Binary, which works to further inclusiveness, as well as the aforementioned Visible Language Workshop founded by Muriel Cooper.
In terms of education, we also learned that many creative coders are autodidacts who make use of online resources such as YouTube tutorials or GitHub. This also underlines the low profile of creative coding in educational institutions. Generally speaking, coding is taught at the Master level, and in media and interaction design courses but should be available more frequently at the undergraduate level. As a result, we have seen that increased curricular development is taking place in that area in both French and American schools as a response to the demand in the field, although it remains a slow process (see Garcin and Reas).
In conclusion, the notion of creative coding as an artisanal activity was often advanced, defining it as a sort of extension of the artistic practice of a graphic designer, who is shaping communication, and creating typographical compositions using their intellectual and emotional skills through creative coding.
5Visions of the Future
While the interconnected nature of the media world continues to evolve at quantum speed, the profession of graphic design is taking its time when it comes to shifting paradigms. The discipline is still very anchored in traditional approaches, such as the conceptual approach, common in British and American schools, or the Swiss tradition of working towards achieving a high degree of craftsmanship and typographical mastery. In the future, it is hoped that institutions focused on graphic design will commit more solidly to creative coding. In a field such as this, which is undergoing a major metamorphosis, with unemployment rates out of university approaching 7.8%, and difficulties generating wealth, the potential of advanced technologies such as machine learning represents a major potential for new opportunities17. We would like to see the discipline moving into a more forward vision of things, freeing themselves from the constraints of former paradigms, which are celebrated through models of support and distribution such as the The Most Beautiful Swiss Books and 100 Beste Plakate awards. In Switzerland, changes are already visible. The illustrious printer Uldry, which has produced the works of icons of graphic design such as Max Bill, as well as contemporaries like Jiri Oplatek, have formally announced that they have decided to cease their practice of silkscreen printing in favor of digital printing. The major Swiss-French weekly L’Hebdo sadly closed its doors in 2017, right before the transition of print to digital. The rise of onscreen advertising and the power and ubiquity of the new generation of smartphones, along with the emergence of blockchain technology, have led us to reexamine many areas of our traditional practices and our areas of expertise as graphic designers. Nevertheless, there is a great potential in these new practices augmented by algorithms and creative coding and this research project has shown its quality, providing clear examples from graphic designers active on the commercial level. It is to be hoped that we will see the same impetus in Switzerland that we have seen in France, and eventually see creative coding being taught relatively widely at the undergraduate level, as well as encouraging more exchanges and collaborative projects at both the undergraduate and master levels to circulate savoir-faire in a more horizontal level in the various spheres of the profession.
This is not a call to create a new generation of new technicians, but rather to provide intellectual bases so that future generations can interact with these new technologies and their actors, and know how to understand and incorporate them into a creative practice, as well as how to generate economic capital to guarantee a secure future. It is our hope that this research will provide a greater understanding of the challenges faced by educational institutions and inspire graphic designers to take a fresh look at their own creative practices.
Demian Conrad is a designer, researcher and creative director who has authored several books on design. Since 2007, he has headed up Automatico Studio, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that works on visual identities, editorial design and way-finding. The studio has won three consecutive awards: Best European Poster (2009–2011), first prize at the European Design Awards (2013), as well as the prestigious Art Director Club Award (2017).
Conrad’s long-term collaborations include visual identities for the EPFL (Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology), exhibition design for the Grand Palais in Paris, editorial design for Espazium publishing, a campaign for Art Basel and corporate design for the Zarattini Bank.
A member of the Alliance Graphique International since 2017, Conrad’s works are held in several public and private collections, including the Zurich Museum of Design and the Chaumont Archive. In 2012, the studio also participated in the exhibition 100 Years of Swiss Graphic Design at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich.
Conrad currently teaches at HEAD-Genève. His focus is on editorial narrative through images, and exploring the role of new technology in the shaping of new languages. He has been developing an experimental space in collaboration with HEAD-Genève, the Center for Future Publishing, a space where technology intersects with design.
Learn to Code
Code to Learn:
Coding occupies a weird place within the field of graphic design. While it is recognized as a practice that profoundly shapes our artificial environment, its actual adoption within schools and studios is still minoritarian, to say the least. Moreover, as some of the interviews in this volume show, graphic designers are not always capable of perceiving the computational virtues of a project, such as an elegant workflow, or an ingenious generative process.18
I speak from experience: in almost five years of teaching, I’ve caught a few students outsourcing the programming part of their projects. Several of them expressed frustration with and disinterest in coding, which is often framed as the mere execution of a creative idea. Sadly, a gendered component is also likely to be in play, probably as a result of women’s internalized estrangement from the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).19 In fact, most of the students who at the very outset disclose to me that “coding is not their cup of tea” are women.
On the bright side, I have had the pleasure of seeing many complex code-heavy projects made by women designers. These projects were not about the Promethean hubris that code often inspires, or the proud display of the “power” of programming. Instead, they focused on the sociocultural aspects of coding as a practice that brings people together with machines and through machines. More on that later.
Should this practice be within the designer’s domain? This has been a question that has elicited ongoing and heated debate for as long as I can remember. The question, simply put, is “should designers have to be able to code?” For some notable practitioners, the answer is a hard yes. One of them is John Maeda. His position is unsurprising, since he created the language Design by Numbers, Processing’s predecessor, and he could be considered a pioneer of computational design. Computational design is, according to Maeda, design that uses the fabric of anything involving computing, sensing and actuating. In his view, computational designers would not, at least in the near future, replace “classical designers” but simply work on different challenges.20
Another position is more down to earth: sure, coding skills are nice to have, a skill that facilitates the dialog with developers, but in practice, the place of graphic, UI and even UX designers is the wireframe, the mockup, the clickable prototype designed in Illustrator or (goosebumps) Photoshop; and more recently in Figma, Sketch or Invision, with the occasional venture into CSS or SASS territory.
I don’t mean to offer yet another take on this vexata quaestio, but rather to zoom out on the frameworks we adopt when we consider coding as a practice. I hope to indicate two paradigms which influence and reconfigure each other. I will refer to them as Learn to Code and Code to Learn.
A clarification, before we start: in this essay I use the terms “coding”, “programming” and “hacking” interchangeably as the difference between them and their relative hierarchy is often fuzzy and artificial. However, as I will explain, they are ideologically attached to the paradigms.
Learn to Code
At the beginning of 2019, a bunch of 4chan and Twitter users began to mock and harass some journalists who had been recently laid off from Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post. The journalists were told by these users that it was time for them to “learn to code.” 21
The backstory: a few years before, US media called attention to an initiative to turn redundant coal miners into coders. Distrustful of the liberal press, social media users disseminated the Learn to Code meme to highlight the initiative’s inherent elitism and double standards: it’s OK when miners are asked to retrain, it’s not OK when journalists have to do it. The former are seen as a human resource to allocate, the latter as individuals with agency.
Truth be told, a quiz published in 2014 on Buzzfeed was already ironically problematizing the Learn to Code imperative.22 The format was simple: you were asked to identify yourself in order to find out if you needed to learn to code or not. As a reflection of Buzzfeed’s hallmark absurdist humor the categories included “feminist,” “Michael Bloomberg,” “homeless,” and, of course, “designer.” The quiz’s response to the latter was that they must also learn to code, because Fast Company says so.23
The gist of the joke was that everyone was required to learn to code—except for Barack Obama, who was then too busy being President of the United States (but not too busy to tell students to program their phones instead of just playing with them).
In 2021, the economic imperative to train and retrain has never been so strong. After the pandemic’s dramatic impact on artists’ economies, a skepticism about “creative” work is emerging, portraying it as unproductive daydreaming, and a wholly unessential industry. The emphasis is now on hard labor and effectiveness. A misunderstood ad captures the sentiment pretty well: it shows a picture of a ballerina tying her shoes, with the following headline: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet).” 24
The fundamental idea of Learn to Code is that the ability to program is a historical necessity for people working at a useless or obsolete job, and that these people must serve the economic imperatives of capitalism. This servitude is referred to as “retraining”. At a 2019 rally, Joe Biden condescendingly told a crowd of redundant miners: “Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!” Nobody clapped.25
Perhaps it is useful at this point to briefly reiterate the distinction between coders and programmers. While programmers are recognized as having an acknowledged and relatively arcane expertise with a correspondingly high salary, coding is increasingly perceived as semi-skilled labor. The programmer belongs to a profession, the coder to a workforce.
In 2014, German media theorist Florian Cramer dissected the various meanings of the term “post-digital”. One of them was “the contemporary disenchantment with digital information systems and media gadgets.” 28 The Learn to Code meme suggests that disenchantment does not only revolve around the tools of the trade, but also around the trade itself. Coding, in the light of retraining, doesn’t seem to be so emancipating.
Another understanding of post-digital Cramer highlighted has to do with the revival of old media. This might be a bit of a stretch, but what is more “old media”, more 20th-century, than the idea of a workforce to be forged for the good of the nation? Of course, the Learn to Code narrative hints at the fact that jobs, skills and aspirations do not exist in a vacuum. However, due to a combination of disenchantment with programming and old-media labor rhetoric, coding emerges as a post-digital manifestation of capitalist realism, forcing graphic designers, journalists and coal miners alike to deal with their situations. All of them must go through mandatory updates, just like software. Is programming itself immune to this logic? Not really, it would seem, as the angelus novus of AI promises or threatens (depending on whom you ask) to automate the coder as well.29
Code to Learn
Learning with Computers
In a time when much is being said about the creativity of autonomous AI-powered machines, it is good to reconsider Licklider’s notion of human-computer symbiosis.33 When you code, you instruct the computer to execute a more or less complex task, which is then immediately performed. You do not always know what to expect: the result might awe or disappoint you, allowing you to reorient or even redefine your initial goal.34 Part of the symbiosis is intrinsic to the language shared by user and machine—namely, code. Creativity unfolds through this micro-iterative learning process: it is neither in the mind nor in the machine, but rather in the continuous scripted dialogue between the subject and their extensions.35 The computer is just one of those extensions, but a particularly powerful one, since it is, to use Alan Kay’s term, a metamedium, that is, a medium capable of simulating all others. As such the computer should be a thing that can be shaped and transformed. When it becomes less malleable, the computer is fixed within a stable media, which is perhaps more efficient, but also less surprising, less “creative.” You do more but you learn less. Fundamentally, creativity is a question of time. Mostly of our daily activity with computers happens through hopefully speedy but ossified software. We use the computer in “speedrun mode.” 36 This is the paradox of creative coding: the coding part is supposed to make things faster, the creative part requires that things go slowly. According to permacomputing principles, one might say that Learn to Code is very “yang”, and Code to Learn does also value the “yin”: it “accepts the aspects that are beyond rational control and comprehension. Rationality gets supported by intuition. The relationship with the system is more bidirectional, emphasizing experimentation and observation.” 37
Learning through Computers
Coding does not just manifest as a relationship between a user and a computer, but also between users through computers. Users exchanging techniques in real life or on StackOverflow, appreciating each others’ solutions, using coding as an excuse to just hang out, or building upon each other’s tools.38 The input of this process is patience and a capacity for listening; the output is fun and a sense of belonging.
Coding can also be a bridge linking us to past users. We see this in Ted Davis’ assignment to recreate pioneering computer works39 or with the Re-Programmed Art Project, where a series of contemporary designers reinterpreted “analog” works of the Italian collective Gruppo T, active in the 1960s.40
Coding as a Craft
While Learn to Code turns coding into a resumé-ready skill, Code to Learn is about coding as a craft. My understanding of craft is wide-ranging: “a good job well done,” as Sennett defines it.41 A craft is a savoir faire that is capable of stabilizing and consolidating one’s identity. In a time when designers are urged to constantly decorate their bio with strategic labels, a craft is a reflective activity, in the sense that the crafted things and the tools for crafting are a reflection of their maker, who generally recognizes themselves in them. This is also true of coding. As Roberto Arista, creator of the Python for Designers course, puts it:
Programming then can become a way to escape [the confinement of desktop publishing software], connecting different regions and patiently rebuilding the workshop within the tools that effectively destroyed these regions.42
The craftsperson enters their own physical or digital workshop—a local hackerspace, a custom i3 setup, a DIY CMS—and feels at home. This is where they code and learn, learn and code. This is where they can forget, for a while at least, if they are lucky, the pressures and economic necessities of daily life.
Without neglecting Learn to Code’s stressful refrain of employability and professional obsolescence, Code to Learn helps by considering the coding activity in itself, and not merely as an inevitable destiny. Opting for one model over the other in a graphic design school also means determining how to teach programming. When I speak of coding in and of itself I do not mean it as an index of technical notions (variables, loops, etc.). That is precisely the instrumental reduction of the Learn to Code attitude. Rather, I mean it in a broader sense: coding as a social activity and a cultural domain. This is what Code to Learn is all about.
The author wishes to thank Roel Roscam Abbing, Danny Van der Kleij, Raphaël Bastide, mara and sejo for their precious feedback.
1Mac Paint, Bill Atkinson, Apple Computer, 1984.
2Susan Kare designed the first icons associated with the Macintosh OS like the trash can or the famous bomb in 32x32 pixels, as well as the iconic Geneva bitmap font.
3The Center for Future Publishing was founded in 2017 to explore post-digital publishing, DIY design and creative coding.
4See Kim Cascone, The Aesthetics of Failure: “Post-Digital” Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music, (MIT Press, 2000) and Alessandro Ludovico, Post-Digital Print: The Mutation of Publishing since 1894, (Onomatopee, 2012).
5Karl Gerstner, Designing Programmes, (Arthur Niggli, 1964). More on Gerstner in the archives of the Swiss National Library: helveticarchives.ch
6The MIT Visible Language Workshop was founded as a laboratory for computational graphic design: museum.mit.edu; act.mit.edu Video of the Information Landscape Demo run in live at TED5 (1994): youtube.com; Muriel Cooper’s original webpage: web.media.mit.edu
7Original DBN webpage by John Maeda: dbn.media.mit.edu Educational tool for DBN dbn.media.mit.edu youtube.com; Muriel Cooper’s original webpage: web.media.mit.edu.
8 Processing page processing.org and foundation processingfoundation.org
10The School for Poetic Computation was founded in 2013 as a hybrid between school, research and residency sfpc.io
11A disciple of Muriel Cooper’s, John Maeda is a pivotal figure who has transmitted Cooper’s ideas to a new generation. One of his key works to that effect is Creative Code: Aesthetics + Computation, (Thames and Hudson, 2004).
12Processing is an open source C++ toolkit designed to assist the creative process by providing a simple and intuitive framework for experimentation. More about Zach Lieberman can be found at his Instagram site: instagram.com/zach.
13The exhibition website can be found at themovingposter.com
14The term “machine learning” was coined in 1959 by electrical engineer and artificial intelligence pioneer Arthur Samuel. A link to one of the AI softwares used to generate Part B of this book: tldrthis.com
15The word processor was compiled by Donald Knuth latex-project.org
17Statistics regarding unemployment rates among graphic designers who have earned Bachelor’s degrees in 2018, source: Swiss Bureau of Statistics: bfs.admin.ch
18See for instance Sarah Garcin’s interview, pp. A.I 177.
20youtube.com. See also Liz Stinson, “John Maeda: If You Want to Survive in Design, You Better Learn to Code.” Wired, 2017: wired.com.
22Katie Notopoulos, “Should You Learn To Code?” Buzzfeed, February, 10, 2014. buzzfeednews.com.
23Scott Sullivan, “Designers: Learn To Code! Here’s How To Start,” Fast Company, December 21, 2013: fastcompany.com.
24The ad actually dates back to 2019 and was part of a broader campaign. Taken out of context in 2021, it was thought to be specifically targeting artists. Apart from its actual meaning, the indignation it raised highlights the tension surrounding creative and artistic work. See twitter.com.
26See Ellen Mercer, FYI I’M A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, 2015: youtube.com.
27Graphic Designers Surveyed, Lucienne Roberts, Nikandre Kopcke, Stefanie Posavec et al. ed., (London: GraphicDesign, 2015), 166-7.
28Florian Cramer, “What Is ‘Post-Digital’?”, Postdigital Aesthetics, David Berry, Michael Dieter, ed., (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). Also accessible via post-digital.projects.cavi.au.dk.
30Ted Nelson, Computer Lib/Dream Machines, (Chicago: Hugo’s Book Service, 1974).
31IBM created the New Collar label for a program to create jobs in tech for people who might not have a traditional degree. See youtube.com.
32Yes, HTML is also coding: “[…] when you write a web page in HTML, you are creating a data model that will be interpreted by the browser. This is what programming is.” in Paul Ford, “‘Real’ Programming is an Elitist Myth,” Wired, 2020. wired.com.
33J. C. R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE-1, no. 1 (March 1960): 4–11.
34A classic example being the concise BASIC program 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Try it with an emulator or an actual Commodore 64 ;).
35In fact, one can go as far as to say the mind exists as the relationship between a subject’s cognition and the extensions they use.
36Silvio Lorusso, The User Condition, February 2021. Acce ssed August 2021: theusercondition.computer.
37Ville-Matias “Viznut” Heikkilä, Permacomputing, 2020: viznut.fi.
38This becomes apparent with, for example, Dinamo’s computational tools for type design, p. A.F 133. Or, with feminist server collectives like systerserver and anarchaserver; mara, who is part of their group, tells me: “We share terminal sessions with tmux so we can help each other with commands and configuration of the server. We also frequently communicate via mailing list to share tips or suggestions or problems.”
39Davis mentions this assignment in his interview: p. A.D 93.
40Re-Programmed Art is a 2014–15 project by Serena Cangiano and Davide Fornari (currently accessible only via the Wayback Machine at archive.org): reprogrammed-art.cc.
41Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, (London: Penguin Books, 2009).
42Roberto Arista, “Interfaces Are a Solid Object,” Python for Designers, 2020: pythonfordesigners.com.