Processing, the software which is a synthesis of art and technology


The origins of processing at MIT Media Lab can be traced back to the Visible Language Workshop (VLW). Founded in 1975, the VLW became a founding research group of the laboratory from 1985 to 1994, when Director Muriel Cooper died. The treatment emerged directly from the Aesthetics + Computation Group (ACG), a research unit established at the Media Lab by John Maeda in 1996. Maeda’s work in the lab has continued to synthesize the exploration of visual design with technologies emerging software. Within ACG, Maeda launched the Design By Numbers (DBN) programming platform, which was launched in 1999.

Following this first appearance, he got us both involved in the project to help maintain and expand it. Many aspects of the processing were modeled on DBN, which also integrated a code editor with a language. The DBN was a minimal system: the canvas was always 100 x 100 pixels and only gray values ​​could be used – there was no color. These constraints, along with comfortable code elements such as paper and pen, made DBN easy to learn. Our experience with DBN sparked the ambition to start treatment. We started out by extending DBN to include color and other features, but soon realized that these limitations were the essence of this platform and that it shouldn’t be extended. Our goal was to design a system as easy to use as DBN, but with a gateway to more ambitious work. We wanted to allow people to work in color, in large format, to create 3D graphics, and more. Simple Processing sketches are almost as simple as DBN sketches, but Processing is getting bigger: it has a “low floor” and a “high ceiling”.

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