Winter 2010

The sweet green grass of code

Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture: A Guide to Computational Aesthetics

By Casey Reas, Chandler McWilliams and lust. Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95, £14.99

Form+Code is an interesting addition to Princeton Architectural Press’s ‘Design Briefs’, a series of books that aims to inspire students, graphic designers and artists to look over the hedge at the sweet green grass and consider taking a walk on it. The book, in rough terms, is an attempt to discuss the point where programming meets art, and the work created within this scene.

The various authors (among them the always-inspiring Casey Reas, co-creator of the Processing programming language, of which more in Eye 65) trace this theory through its roots in the application of mathematics to sculpture and painting, into early computing and up to modern digital practitioners such as Karsten Schmidt (see Reputations, Eye 74), Ben Shneiderman, Jurg Lehni (see Eye 60), Marcos Wescamp and collectives such as Nervous System and The Barbarian Group.

It would be all too easy to pass by Form+Code if you saw it in a bookshop, its thin spine propped among a hundred other ‘design’ books churned out to be bought by designers to fill shelves in their studio, and eventually be stolen by interns. Unlike such books, however, Form+Code fills an interesting gap in the market, to give an approachable exploration of a complex and often mystical subject. It feeds the appetite to understand more about the mechanics of programming, shows some incredibly inspiring work and then points you in the right direction if you wish to put what you’ve learnt into practice.

The book nicely breaks down the theory behind modern programming languages into component parts, shows how these building blocks fit together and what each piece brings to the table.

And you don’t need to have read about the history of computational art covered in the first third of the book to enjoy the imagery and ideas presented later in the book, though it may help.

Perhaps most impressive of all, the book held my attention from start to finish and didn’t make my brain start leaking out from behind my eyeballs.

That’s right, I said it. Somebody has written a compelling book about computer programming.

First published in Eye no. 78 vol. 20 2010

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.