Why Code?

One of the members of the Sydney Awesome Foundation, (the awesome) Steve Hopkins, has come up with the idea of blogging every day in March to try and get some creative juices flowing. My posting here has been lagging a little, though I’m not sure that more time in front of the computer is quite what I need at this stage, so I might instead have a crack at just doing one for each working day instead.

This week also marks my return to uni – not just for my PhD (which really had already started during the ‘break’ anyway), but also my first teaching classes at COFA. Thankfully the structure of the subject has changed dramatically since I took it in 2009, with a greater focus on concept and prototyping, rather than learning the ins and outs of writing code. This is important because the Digital Media degree has a student population with a vast range of interests. Many of them can’t see how code is important in their own creative process and get frustrated by feeling as though they must learn an entirely foreign language – and one that they can’t see themselves using ever again.

Personally, I have trouble imagining a Digital Media student that wouldn’t be able to bring some level of coding into their own work. Whilst we’re using Processing in this class, it’s not a huge leap to start using code in many of the other popular software packages taught within this degree: After Effects, Photoshop, Maya, and so on. What I would love to see in the students, is the awareness that knowing even a little bit of code will give them the power to express their own creative ideas more freely than any commercial software interface alone.

The students were shown the following interview with Casey Reas (one of the original creators of Processing) in the lecture this week, which makes a couple of interesting points: Reas’ creation always starts with sketching (literally); and iteration leads the creativity process.

From my own experience in the Digital Media degree, there is a want from students to immediately begin a process within the computer. The danger here is that straight away they are locked into one direction and are less likely to be willing to turn back: they’ve already invested too much time working on their project, in an environment which makes students considerably time-poor. I hope that the changes to this subject will help students to break that mould and give them the freedom to explore and embrace the iterative process. Coding can lead them in entirely new directions, and whilst I admit that it’s not always an easy road, they must be willing to take the journey.

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