1. How would you describe
what you are doing in connection with design and programming?
No really something to answer in a short answer (the question is short,
though), I'll try to define the space of the answer by some different
- Creating my own tools. Writing your own tools makes you fully understand
the problem. Recently I wrote my own XML/XSLT Internet server in Python.
There are many around, but writing one from scratch made my understand
XSLT better then I would ever do from a book and using an existing program
('Why make photographs or fonts, there are so many already?')
- Keep as much of the production work inside one single design cycle.
That means that as much of the production work (as any design process
has its own volume of production labor) as possible needs to be
automated. Only then it the next cycle can learn from the experience of
the previous, since it was tested with a real working model instead of
academic solutions (compare a working web site after one hour of sketching
with a PhotoShop document of the same page). Most existing programs are
meant to computerize layout work (still do everything by hand on the screen)
instead of automating the production part of design (leaving time for
sketching, more design cycles and backtracking).
- It is much cheaper than because we save license on one side and can
sell the experience more than once on the other.
- There is a lot of spin-off, since design jobs can get into out studio
both from the design or the technical direction. Meaning: sometimes we
get a Corporate Identity to do because it will save the company money
while in other times the question is more about the design that about
the technique. We sell one with the other. In practice we often find ourselves
in pitches with the larger design studios, while we are only 5 designers.
2. Did you study this specialisation? If so, where? Did your school prepare
you for this specialisation or did you study on your own?
Yes and no. I studied at the Royal Academy in Den Haag. Gerrit Noordzij
was one of the teachers theres. During the mid-seventies he very much
stimulated building my own computer (there were no home-computers around,
let alone software do draw type or design). After my graduation in 1980
I decided I wanted more theoretical background. So I started my own studio
and studied for 6 years at the
Technical University, department Industrial Design. But most of the
programming was autodidactic. During the past 20 years I programmed in
Assembler, Basic, Pascal, Algol, Fortran, C, C++, Prolog, AWK, Yacc, Smalltalk,
disadvantage that it is hard to use them in short running projects where
the emphasis is on design rather than automation. Smalltalk is fine, but
Python is really doing the job for us. Nowadays it is the main programming/
scripting language we use in our studio. We employ graphic designers from
Academies, but most of them learn programming within a couple of weeks.
3. I'm collecting examples of studios/ projects where programming is used
in cooperation with design. Examples: John Maeda @ Media Laboratory of
the MIT, his students, Letterror, Typerware, etc. Is anyone else dealing
with the issues that are important/influential for you? If so, why do
you admire them?
PvB: Not really, I am afraid, except the one you mentioned already.
4. How did you start
with programming, and what was the main motivation to learn it? Which
language did you choose and why?
PvB: Partly see above. During my second year at
the academy I have built my first computer (containing 128 byte of RAM
to start with, then we increased to 32k using an audio-cassette with Basic).
I did a practice term at URW in Hamburg. During that time I got the algoritms
for drawing Ikarus curves and implemented them in our own type editor.
From 1980 to 1985 we had a home-brew Unix (Uniflex) system running with
1Mb of RAM, 3 text terminals and a plotter. We used it for text processing
and drawing grids. All this was programmed in Pascal. Then in 1985 we
bought a Mac Plus. I wrote a version of Ikarus on the Mac and sold it
back to URW, who developed it into the current Ikarus family.
During the past 15 years we used programming as a main tool inside and
during the design process. The type design programs developed into RoboFog,
together with Just and Erik. We use programming to automate all the 'dull'
moments in the design process: calculating kerning tables and testing
the consistency, working
over type families for errors, drawing grids and forms, maintaining all
information of the studio (including bookkeeping, we don't apply any secretary)
until the development of the past years were we try to program design
decisions into programs. Examples of this are all the printed catalogues
of Hotelplan. The layout of all pages comes from automatic layout programs
(that we developed) after an editor decided what should be on a page and
defining the order of importance. Another example is are all the sites
under www.rtl.nl. The pages are calculated
dynamically from the content that is on them.
Currently we are working on a project to offer a service online where
companies can order a Corporate Identity that will be generated automatically
from answer they supply.
5. In your opinion
is it necessary to become a programmer if the concept of the project requires
writing a programme? What are your experiences?
In my opinion designer are programmers anyway: structuring unstructured
information to such an extend that others can work with it. So it can
multiplied, maintained, understood en remembered. The sole fact that designers
think they are not, is because to think it is a different language. For
me there is no difference between sketching a line,
drawing a line or typing:
However to force a 'physical' designer to start programming is hard if
it is no obvious solution. Learning a programming language in most cases
has a steep learning curve. It needs guidance, effort and vision to know
that the effort will lead somewhere at the end. Especially object programming
takes a while to grasp, since the programmer has to merge from "I
do this and that" to "The object can this and does that:".
How do you see yourself, more a designer or programmer?
There is no difference in my point of view. System designers are designers
too. But if you really want it translated to
outside-world-language I think I prefer to be a designer.
As a designer, do you feel some restrictions/limits of software you are
using and can you give me some examples?
Hardly. Because if there is no way I can think of the automate certain
(design) tasks than in most cases is no reason to do so. The main reason
to write a program is that part of the design process is boring. In my
definition anything that at the end could be programmed is not design.
Design always is creating the first one of a kind (so programming itself
is design, because the program was not there to start) where running the
program is production and thus not design. If you are a programmer, how
do you collaborate with designers? Does it influence your work in some
Self-made programs seem to bring a 'game' aspect to graphic design life?
How did you use programming knowledge in both 'for fun' and commissioned
projects? Are your projects published on the internet? If so, where? (URL)
We find ourselves more and more in a situation where we play design simulations
with our corporate customers in order to make them aware how design processes
work. We increase the use of models, games and
simulations there. Software for that is under development during projects
we do. Writing programs that simulate design games is very close to writing
programs that make design decisions on their own.
What about the computer aesthetics? Do you attempt to reconcile the contrast
between the natural and technological looks of your results? How?
No need to. If programming is design, it's result will automatically be
as rich. Poor program results is the result of poor programming. Just
as poor design is the result of a poor design program (or no taste).
Are you attracted to exploit the programming in order to help the computer
become more 'human' or 'emotional' (to simulate our 5 senses)? What are
Is paint? Is color? Is type? I don't think this really is an important
question. Since there is no basic difference between design and programming
(the processes are identical: iterative, 2 step forward, 1 step back;
both need tools, a problem to solve, choosing from possible solutions,
checking of intermediate results against the goals, both are processes
that search with a guided random path towards a fixed or
moving target), one cannot say that programming suddenly is something
else than the design process was already. It's the same thing. Just a
new medium, that's all. But that difference will change in time. Is DTP
design? Is painting design? Is System Design design? Is Organization Design
design? Is programming design? Yes, it all is. Or at least can be.
10. Can everyone learn how to create a programme?
python.org gives the programming language and manuals for free for anyone
Yes, but not in the same speed. I could learn to be a famous violist,
but it might take me 300 years where others would pick up the same experience
in 5 years time. All students, working in our studio (most of them straight
from the academy, where they don't get programming as
training) do program. However some of them learn it faster and better
then the others. Also some aspects of programming are better adapted by
one that the other.
Python is a fine language. Mostly because it is so scalable. You can show
someone the basic principles in an hour. In the interpretor window it
can run separate lines of code. And in the mean time you can build complete
web servers or operating systems with it. This means that
experience keeps its value over the years as the use of the language does
increase. Without starting all over, as I did so many times in the past.
Will you be developing your programming knowledge in your future practice?
Do you have any plans in relation to the 'D + P' issues?
Definitely. More and more parts of the design process itself gets automated.
We build structures of small design decisions into programs to judge certain
layout solutions. The more we understand about how this works, the further
we can go to increase the size of design jobs that we do. While keeping
the same amount of designers.
12. Did you publish/can you recommend some articles related to the theme
Some articles in Items and other magazines. There are some good books
on XML/XSLT, all publications about Python,
artifical intelligence, books on Smalltalk en Prolog, neural networking.
Thank you very much.