Tuesday 12pm, 8 September 2015

Profile color

Tensions and opportunities in combining computational and manual practices

Jennifer Jacobs

PhD Student - MIT Media Lab


Programming is a powerful tool for visual art and design; it enables artists to automate the creation and transformation of visual forms, provides a way to define parametric constraints, and assists in managing complex and dynamic designs. Yet despite these creative opportunities, artists and designers often encounter significant challenges in applying programming to their own creative practice. My research explores ways to enable novice programmers to apply programming to visual art, design, and making through the development of domain-specific programming tools. In this talk, I’ll describe three tools I’ve developed: Codeable Objects, a novice-oriented parametric design tool for blending digital fabrication and craft; DressCode, a linked textual programming editor and direct-manipulation drawing environment; and Para, a direct-manipulation procedural illustration tool. I’ll talk about my evaluation of these tools through workshops with a variety of creative practitioners. I’ll conclude by describing how these studies illuminate the viability of engaging novice programmers through art and design, the compatibility of different programming paradigms with manual art practices, and the challenges of combining abstract design tools with concrete practices.


Jennifer Jacobs is a Ph.D. candidate at the MIT Media Lab in the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group. Her research examines ways to diversify participation and practice in computer programming by building computational tools for art, design, digital fabrication, and craft. As part of her research, she has conducted craft and technology workshops at locations ranging from ENSAD, to the MIT Museum, to Tsumkwe Namibia. Her work has been presented at international conferences, including CHI and SIGGRAPH, and has been featured in the press, including Wired and Le Monde. Prior to joining Lifelong Kindergarten, Jennifer received a Masters of Science from MIT and a Masters of Fine Art from Hunter College in Manhattan. Her artwork has been exhibited in Art Basel in Miami, Boston Fashion Week, the Portland Art Museum in Oregon and other venues.