by Andrew Richardson. Fairchild, March 2016. 196p. ill. ISBN 9781472578303 (pbk.), $68.95.

Reviewed November 2016
Gabriella Karl-Johnson, Architecture Librarian, Princeton University, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

richardsonOver the last decade, computer programmers and code-savvy artists working at the intersection of art, graphic design, and computer programming have steered the emergence of a new category of creative production. Alternately referred to as computer art, generative art, or creative coding, this expanding genre of design has begun to bear an influence on all manner of creative fields from architecture and graphic design to video art and fashion. The recent publication of Data-driven Graphic Design: Creative Coding for Visual Communication marks an important new contribution to the field of generative art. Written by Andrew Richardson, a senior lecturer in interactive media and design at the University of Sunderland, the richly-illustrated text is strikingly jargon-free and serves as both a handbook for creation and a history of the field.

The six thematically organized chapters range in topic and complexity from a general outline of creative coding to the utilization of large data sets. Recurring features throughout the book are designated by color, and a color-coded running header serves as navigation for the reader. Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Code” that focuses on coding exercises and provides examples, helpful tips, and explanations of terminology, down to basic explanations of grammar, syntax, and functions. Interspersed throughout the book are the features entitled “Exemplar” and “Spotlight On,” which provide profiles of projects and interviews with practitioners. These features illuminate the tools and processes used in the highlighted projects and also explain the inspiration and technical training of some of the individuals involved.

Unlike other guides to the genre and process of creating code-based visual materials, Data-driven Graphic Design presents a wide range of contextual information as well as practical exercises and examples of code. For those new to coding but interested in creating code-generated visual output, texts such as the now-classic Processing: a Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists by Casey Reas and Ben Fry (2007) may make a novice feel decidedly left behind, whereas Data-driven Design is written in a welcoming manner. Many other guides focus on a single programming language (notably the Processing language) and launch swiftly into code-heavy pages with thumbnail images and little explanatory text, but Data-driven Design provides context and explanation from start to finish, with full-color illustrations throughout. Although Processing is the language of the book’s coding examples, Richardson offers informative profiles of other programming languages, including examples of the types of projects to which each language is best suited.

Data-driven Design is a clearly written, comprehensive overview of the fruitful meeting point of computer programming and visual output that will be particularly useful for newcomers to the practice of code-based art and design.