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Artistic and computational thinking

On the rare occasions when we computer folk get to collaborate with artists, I'm always fascinated by the different ways we approach design.  I first noticed this back when I was working for the National e-Science Centre and an art project used our video conferencing system for a live performance project.   During the performance the video system started to glitch.  Instead of stopping and fixing the problem, the musicians and dancers started to incorporate the glitch into the work.  That was neat.

More recently, some of my colleagues have worked with artists on a couple of web applications.  These collaborations have exposed wide differences in the ways people think.  For one project, we did our usual approach of producing wire-frame outlines of the user interface, with the aim of letting sample users step through a draft design.  To our surprise, the users couldn't handle this sort of abstraction.   They needed to see a completed graphic design - to see the full picture in the literal sense.

In another case, our collaborators did the drawing for us.  They expressed their requirements as pictures of what the screens should look like.  And they looked good.  Then we asked about the paths users should take through the system and what the objectives of the system should be.  Then they are we talked past each other - it proved very difficult to understand each other.  We think in terms of processes and outcomes.  They seem to think in terms of pictures.   We each have something to contribute - a good graphic designer can transform the user experience of a system, as can a good information architect - but sometimes we seem to need a translator to help us communicate!


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