Casey Reas: Hi, every­body. I’m Casey. I want to keep my com­ments fair­ly brief. The idea is to go back a lit­tle bit in time. I’m going to share some of the orig­i­nal ideas when we first were start­ing Processing.

We go back to 2001. What were the ini­tial goals at that time? Why did we start mak­ing Processing. We had two goals that were work­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. One was to bring these real­ly pow­er­ful ideas from com­put­er sci­ence into the dig­i­tal arts, and also con­verse­ly to bring ideas from the visu­al arts into the tech­nol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty. I think the largest goal there, one that’s very aligned with what we’re talk­ing about today, that’s one of access and mak­ing it pos­si­ble for more peo­ple and peo­ple who think dif­fer­ent­ly to have access to these pow­er­ful ideas [in?] programming.

One of the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences we were think­ing about at the time is between learn­ing how to use soft­ware and how that’s dif­fer­ent from learn­ing how to cre­ate soft­ware. When you learn how to use soft­ware, you’re using soft­ware as a tool. When you’re cre­at­ing soft­ware, you have a very pow­er­ful way of think­ing at your dis­pos­al that allows you to build web sites, to make video games, and that’s think­ing about soft­ware more as a medium.

The way that you think about soft­ware affects the kinds of things that you can do. Traditionally you would learn com­put­er pro­gram­ming through oper­at­ing on math, or oper­at­ing on lan­guage, and in order to bring these ideas into the visu­al arts we decid­ed to build a cus­tom lan­guage that allowed peo­ple to have visu­al expressions. 

Screenshot of the programming environment for the DBN language

We were [ini­tial­ly?] influ­enced by a lan­guage called Design By Numbers, which was start­ed by John Maeda. There was a lot of work that was hap­pen­ing pri­or at MIT in the Visual Language Workshop, and in the Aesthetics & Computation group. The time in 2000 is very dif­fer­ent from now, and Design By Numbers was a project that allowed peo­ple to begin writ­ing their pro­grams very ear­ly on, with­in the con­text of an [inaudi­ble].

At the time you could write C++ pro­grams, and for exam­ple this is a pro­gram that’s extreme­ly and far too com­pli­cat­ed for pro­duc­ing this result, draw­ing two tri­an­gles. That was one thing we were work­ing against, hav­ing code like that which was real­ly dif­fi­cult to parse and under­stand, to pro­duce a real­ly sim­ple visu­al result:

Screenshot of the interface for Macromedia Director MX 2004

The oth­er thing that we were work­ing against were tools that were made for design­ers and artists. We felt that tools like this from around that same time made it easy for peo­ple to get into pro­gram­ming, but as your ideas grew and as you became more of an expert, these kinds of envi­ron­ments were lim­it­ed and did­n’t real­ly allow the work to grow with your ideas.

So we start­ed Processing as a way of bring­ing ideas in the visu­al arts into the pro­gram­ming cul­ture. The idea was to build a new cul­ture with­in the visu­al arts around what soft­ware could do.

And this is the sta­tus of where it is right now. We do things like talk about col­or, we talk about typog­ra­phy, we talk about shapes. But at the same time we intro­duce these core ideas of soft­ware: vari­ables, flow, repetition.

At Processing’s tenth anniver­sary, we made a list of what we felt were the most impor­tant aspects of the project, in a way the things that we’ve done well.
So, pro­gram­ming with­in the visu­al arts con­text.
We made it explic­it­ly for edu­ca­tion and learn­ing.
We felt it need­ed to be a bridge to oth­er lan­guages. So for exam­ple, as a first lan­guage, you could build on top of it and use oth­er kinds of pro­gram­ming languages.
To have an infra­struc­ture for edu­ca­tion, the kinds of tuto­ri­als and exam­ples that were needed.
And that we devel­oped it through the com­mu­ni­ty and through teach­ing. It was built through a dia­logue with peo­ple who were using it.
That it was sim­ple to share. Exporting so peo­ple see the work, and you could share the work with your com­mu­ni­ty and with your friends.
And that we had an infra­struc­ture that allowed peo­ple to dis­cuss, work togeth­er, to ask ques­tions to each oth­er, and real­ly tried to build the kind com­mu­ni­ty where peo­ple felt welcome.
Then that it’s exten­si­ble; you can extend it and build on top of it.
That you can use it for bring­ing dif­fer­ent media in and tak­ing dif­fer­ent media out.
And that it was min­i­mal, mean­ing that peo­ple could be very com­fort­able with it from the begin­ning, but it would scale with your ideas.

Graph showing growth of the Processing language from under 10,000 users at the start of 2006, to nearly 200,000 in January 2015

That was about five years ago, and here’s a chart show­ing how Processing’s grown. The num­ber of peo­ple using Processing on a month­ly basis, from January 2006 to January 2015. The dips in there are when the school year begins and ends. You can see that it’s heav­i­ly tied to the aca­d­e­m­ic calendar.

If we take this list of ten things, which I think is clear, but it’s also a lit­tle bit too involved, I think now in 2015 we can real­ly great­ly sim­pli­fy this into these three points:

  1. Diversity. I’m real­ly great­ful to Lauren and Johanna for tak­ing the lead­er­ship in this area. Having a direct con­ver­sa­tion about diver­si­ty, class, and gen­der with­in the Processing project. It’s new; this is the begin­ning of that, and we real­ly look for­ward to learn­ing through this dis­cus­sion and bring­ing that foward.
  2. The idea of access has always been a part of Processing from the very begin­ning, but we’re inter­est­ed in bring­ing that for­ward in more depth.
  3. And then the con­ver­sa­tion around free soft­ware, mean­ing free as in free­dom, libre, and libero soft­ware. It’s been a part of Processing but it’s nev­er been an explic­it part of the mes­sage. I think talk­ing about how Processing and projects like this and com­mu­ni­ties like this are very dif­fer­ent from the Adobes and Autodesks and Microsofts of the world. It’s anoth­er part of our edu­ca­tion [ini­tia­tive] we’re going to embark on.

With that lit­tle bit of back­ground [inaudi­ble] Johanna to talk about the present and future goals of the project.

Further Reference

Overview page at the Studio for Creative Inquiry’s web site.