Third post in a series about my experiences at the Master’s of Digital Design, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

When setting out to learn code, getting the words ‘Hello World’ to pop up on your screen is a common first exercise. Great metaphor, wouldn’t you agree? Currently, I’m also taking first serious steps into the world of development.

A basic comprehension of code is highly valued here at the Master’s programme. And rightfully so; if you don’t at least know what’s possible than how can you ever use it to your advantage? Or, like one of the lecturers put it:

‘If you say you like making music so much, than you best learn how to read the notation.’

Art and soul

I won’t bore you with the discussion whether designers need to know how to program or not. Enough has already been said about that, and I’m convinced that it will always give you an edge. in the field we’re in. Also, I don’t think there’s a single designer job posting out there anymore that doesn’t consider a basic comprehension of code a must. But as a designer originally trained in an aart school environment, anything that looked remotely similar to maths gave me the shivers. So for me to truly invest my heart and soul into it, required alot more than just a handful of rational arguments and my sense of curiosity.

Reverse engineering

Let’s face it: as a designer I’m used to the immediate satisfaction of the visual design process, and the sheer freedom of conceptual ideation. And bringing code into the equation for me just felt like a limitation rather than an opportunity. So if I view code as the bricks that my castles in the sky are built with, how can I find a way for it to inspire a lift-off?

Casual Friday-afternoon Jenga fun with the fellow students at WeWork Amsterdam.

Solution: think of it the other way around! No castle with the bricks, right?And what again, is the original toy of creativity? Yes, it’s LEGO. So the only way for me to experience to full potential of code, is for me to start playing (and failing) with it. Fortunately, there’s plenty opportunity to do exactly that at the Master.

Crack the code

And yes, it takes some time to get the hang of the rules in this game called programming. And it will be frustrating more often than not. Because whether we’re sketching a modular art installation with Arduino, prototyping an app with BLE beacons, or developing a VR-experience in Unity; if you really want to create something new, you’re gonna have to figure out the technical blueprint at some point. So whenever I hit a wall, it’s a comforting thought that in addition to all the visual, product, and UX designers at the programme, we also have some actual developers and engineers around to conquer whatever obstacle I happen to run into.

Concert

Will code be my next favorite thing? Probably not. But what it does give me is a sharpened vision on digital development, and a deeper appreciation of the people around me. And going back to what my lecturer said — I don’t have to be able to play my teammates’ instruments completely. But if we have an idea of the effort that goes into playing them, and the wonderful sounds that can come out of it, we’re already halfway to performing the best concert you’ve ever heard, together…

“Hello World!”

This article was first published in Dutch on Adformatie, on 1 December 2017. As an inside reporter, Jouke Zult writes about his experiences during the first year of the Master’s programme in Digital Design (AUAS).

Author Jouke Zult

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