Wednesday, 23 May 2012

More computational toys for artists

Luke had developed the habit of calling his early experiments "computational toys" - image-based interactive systems that exhibit some kind of computational behaviour, thereby providing opportunities for creative experiences of flow and emergence. I think he recently referred to Palimpsest as a computational toy too, though it's rather more complex than anything of the kind we've built in the past. (Though to be honest, Michelle's positive experience was more by nature of a toy - the further complexities may yet turn out to be of minimal additional advantage).

Other blog readers have had their eye out for projects that they see as being related. All of them exhibit this same kind of behaviour, suggesting that the general category is recognisable, even to people without the precise theoretical fixations that Luke and I had. Two have come up recently:

  • Sam Aaron pointed out the Recursive Drawing system built by Toby Schachman for his project Alternative Programming Interfaces for Alternative Programmers (I created the illustration above using this).
  • Beryl Plimmer noted a presentation at CHI of the Vignette system from Igarashi's Design Interface Project, which uses gestures to replicate and fill with texture elements that can be dynamically created and modified while being used as drawing elements.

Both of these recent projects might be considered within the general class of procedural drawing systems - they are oriented toward artists rather than programmers, though Recursive Drawing is especially computational in its feel - as indicated by the project title. Vignette is sufficiently close to real professional design requirements that similar systems have been created fairly regularly in the past - from Sketchpad, to Paul Richens' Piranesi system for architectural rendering with its similar perspective and texture tools.

The challenging question for Palimpsest is, to what extent can these interactive procedural drawing systems be extended with more sophisticated computational abstractions, before they lose their appeal as computational toys? The answer relies on finding a particular balance between flow and attention investment, as well as sufficient quality of design. Recursive Drawing is rather similar to Palimpsest in its visual layout, including a side bar that resembles the Palimpsest layer stack. However it is far more elegant! Perhaps because its computational properties are quite specific and limited, but perhaps also because it is an art school product informed by computing expertise, rather than the other way round.

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