Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Master of Digital Design / Grow Your Own Logotype

Over the past year or so I've been working on a major new offering here at UC. So, I'm delighted to finally launch the new Master of Digital Design online. This course will offer something quite unique in the Australian context: a trans-disciplinary coursework Masters focused on digital practice for designers and creative practitioners of all sorts. The key practical approaches are generative techniques, data visualisation and design, and physical computing; and we'll be using these to address three core themes or questions: the urban, the public, and the sustainable.

As readers of this blog will know, these themes and approaches are right in line with my own research and creative interests; so frankly, I'm thrilled to be leading this course. Teaching with me will be a crew of talented designers, artists and researchers including Stephen Barrass, Sam Hinton and Geoff Hinchcliffe. Finally, we'll be drawing on the wisdom and experience of an international advisory panel whose work exemplifies what we mean by digital design - a practice that engages deeply, and critically, with digital processes, digital materials, and digital contexts: Karsten Schmidt, Rory Hyde, Nervous System, Anthony Burke and foAM.

The course launch has also provided a great excuse (er, opportunity) to play with some ideas around generative branding and marketing. I've been tinkering with this logotype for ages; it uses the same basic algorithm as Limits to Growth but artificially constrains the growth to a letterform (in the guise of a hidden bitmap image). Lately I've extended the logotype into a little generative marketing gadget; a Processing applet that lets you grow endless variations, and receive the results as a PDF file, attached to an email. The aim is to provide a little taste of the power - and pleasure - of generative design.

Behind the scenes this project was yet another demonstration of the brilliance of Processing and its community. The key technical challenge was the upload-and-email functionality. Seltar's "save to web" hack provided the template; upload image data over HTTP, and have a PHP script catch and save the file. From there it was relatively straightforward to have PHP generate the email, with the help of the Pear MailMime package. The final step was uploading a PDF, rather than a bitmap. This seemed impossible, because the built-in PDF library needs to write a local file, which means the extra annoyance of a signed applet. I posted a query on the Processing forums and within 24 hours PhiLho saved me with a solution that extends the PDF class to allow access to the PDF data as a Byte array, without first saving the file. Amazing: thank you! Add the super-useful ControlP5 for the UI sliders and buttons, and the whole thing is built on, in and with free, open-source software. Again, a demonstration of why digital design is such an exciting field of practice right now.