cambu-lookingoutwards02

My first exposure to computational design and art was through Steven Wittens (acko.net) in my senior year of high school while taking a Calculus and Vectors class. I had become irritated with the way my teacher was approaching the topic, never letting us explore the material or do projects, instead forming the entire semester around wrote tests and quizzes. Around the same time, I also became aware of Bret Victor (worrydream.com), whose projects inspire me immensely to this day.

One of my favourite pieces of Bret’s work is Drawing Dynamic Visualizations (video, additional notes), a concept for a hybrid direct-manipulation/programmatic information visualizer.

In his talk, Bret introduces the problem of Spreadsheets only creating pre-fab visualizations, drawing programs like Illustrator not being able to deal with dynamic data, and the output of coded artifacts not being continuously “seeable.” Meaning you can’t see what you’re making until after you render, which creates a feedback loop where errors can occur. To express this idea, he posits that programming is equal to “Blindly Manipulating Symbols.” A feeling I relate very strongly to when I don’t know exactly what my code is doing and can’t recreate the entire structure in my mind’s eye.

As a solution to this problem, Bret presents a concept for a program that combines the idea of direct manipulation with the ability to process and handle dynamic data.

 

This prototype was created wholly by Bret, but is not his first attempt at creating programmatic drawing tools or concepts. For prior art, see his works: Substroke, Dynamic Drawing, and ‘Stop Drawing Dead Fish.’ In terms of the future, I see the possibility for tools like this to change how many people work with the computational display of information and ideas. Personally, I’ve never taken immense joy from the act of programming, but, rather from the results which it produces and I believe tools like this could make that power far more accessible and enjoyable.