It’s Friday, so it’s our design/innovation issues highlight.
We’re going to focus this post on a couple of email responses we got to our podcast episode two weeks ago on the digital sundial project. We each mentioned that we both are shocked that some people actually create CAD files through using code instead of a 3D CAD program where you are using tools to build things visually and felt we needed to clarify a few things.
Listen to the podcast here:
Design by Coding is Not Art
First I want to clarify the fact that there is no reason not to edit code. Using that as a tool, I have no problem with that. Designing via code is limiting. It’s severely limiting, but people do it. I get it. But look at the result of it. The results of that sundial is pretty frickin’ ugly. It’s basic, but it’s functionally great. It’s not a beautifully designed object; it’s an object that functions the way it’s supposed to.
Here is the problem. Design is an over-used term. When you are editing by coding, the term is design engineering. The engineering, mathematical version of design. It’s a very analytical process, which is counter to an intuitive artistic process. That’s the comment that we typically make and the way we use design. We use the word “design” to imply the artistic side of design. The opposite of that.
We irked these two people; they are not happy with us for disrespecting, being dismissive of creating CAD through code. We respect everyone’s opinions, and we are very happy you wrote in. This one person, Casey Dunne, says, “I hope you reconsider your words regarding using code to create objects. It seems incredibly insulting and shows a hilarious lack [of] perspective to dismiss an artist based solely on medium.”
Casey, I’m going to disagree with you here because I disagree that coding is art. We are art students here. We have degrees in fine art from Rhode Island School of Design. I respect coding. There is nothing wrong with creating CAD through coding. It’s a valid way to do it. Our issue is considering this to be actual art or even design. Design is way over-used, and it’s certainly not art.
Let’s go into that deeper. He is saying it’s a medium. It may be a medium for production, for engineering something, but it is not a medium for art. It’s not possible. Why is it not possible? I have done research on this, and I wrote an article on Inc. recently on this. John Assaraf, a highly regarded brain thought process guy who is featured in The Secret, and I talked about innovative thinking. He says, “First off, you can’t innovatively think. It’s not possible.” For that same reason, it’s not possible for coding to be artistic. It’s actually not possible for most of CAD to be artistic in any way, shape, or form. If you’re using a CAD program, it’s also not possible.
The reason is brain function on many levels. It functions on a conscious thought process level, and it functions on a subconscious, intuitive level. It is in that intuitive processing where the innovation and artistic creation happens. It does not happen on a conscious level. Every time your conscious mind must think about numbers, sizing, lines, and those mechanical engineering details, the numbers of 0’s and 1’s… When you are in a G-code editing mode and figuring out where you are in the lines of your design, it takes you out and distracts your brain process so that it cannot work on that creative, intuitive level. You talk about Einstein and other people who really valued creative minds, the idea of meditating and going completely silent and/or completely reducing—Einstein is famous for putting his keys in one place and wearing the same clothes every day—the amount of effort your brain has to function on a conscious level on the mundane, technical things of any kind. If it’s always automatic, it’s happening, and you’re not thinking about it, then your intuition can continue to work on a higher level. You can practice it to get it to work amidst some of the noise. But the heavy task-based thinking that is required by mathematical operations reduces the ability for the creative intuitive process to function in your brain. You cannot be innovative. You cannot be artistic at that stage. That is the issue we talk about when we talk about the reason why.
Another good example: Jackson Pollack. I am a big fan of Pollack. There is rhythm and fractal imagery and all sorts of things that have been mathematically studied by science in his paintings. But they have not been able to successfully replicate them through math to create it. If they created a robot or computer to throw down paint in the way he did it—because he physically stood over the painting and did it that way—they can do a mathematical fractal analysis and say that this is the fractal rhythm of it and create a machine or computer program that will do it. But it does not look the same. It does not happen. They believe this is the case because subconscious decisions are being made physically in the process that he was painting. He is moving. His body is moving. His muscles are reacting to his intuitive sensibilities, his creative process, his artistic nature and responding to that by moving and doing.
When you draw in the CAD program, when you are using your hand to draw and are not mathematically typing with a stylus, that is absolutely just as valid as drawing in a sketchbook or doing anything like that. If you sketch to draw and then code it, that works as well. I actually sketch out my designs in a sketchbook with pencil and paper in hand. I have a vision in my mind of how I see it, and then I go to a CAD program to create it physically in the 3D space of a computer what that design is. When I’m doing it on the paper in my mind, that’s where the art and the creativity come in. When I’m doing it in CAD, I’m executing what that design or art is.
Decisions get made along the way. Decisions are very different when you are coding versus when you are drawing versus when you are doing CAD. I have to decide what size or volume of object I am making. It’s within a bounding area of four inches by three inches by two inches. I have to put it in grounded space of reality. When I am making that chain that goes around my neck on the tie, that’s really not the art or creative part. That is purely functional. That’s where the design tips over into part art and part engineering. That’s where design meets in the middle there. When you do something that is solely heavy on the engineering side, where so many designs that get made in the processing and execution of the model, you have removed yourself too far from the art side of things.
You do things where you have combined both of that motion of drawing within your CAD program. That’s why you choose the CAD program you like to use, which is the surface modeling program as opposed to a solid modeling program. That’s why you choose it. It allows you some of that motion and much more free-form creation. You have chosen that one as your method because it allows more of that creativity to happen in those decisions. Muscle memory in your arm and intuition going into that to help move those things and create those things and make some decisions along the way. When you do it solely in code, you have no ability to do that. You must always be in your conscious mind thinking your way through the model. As you said, you can’t think your way to innovation or art. It doesn’t work like that.
That’s the difference we are talking about here. It’s not that we dismiss this, and I’m sorry you felt that way about us. What we are trying to encourage you to do is to get into a method in which you can be more creative. There is nothing wrong with anybody in the 3D printing industry making objects that are not making art. We’re not saying everything has to be art or design by any means. It’s perfectly valid to engineer parts that are purely functional that work, or that perform certain things. There is nothing wrong with that. We embrace that, and anybody who gets involved in that is fine.
But let’s not kid ourselves that it is art. That is the difference. Design by coding is engineering. You might sketch it, and that is artistic ahead of time. But you are missing out on further parts of the artistic process by the medium that you are choosing. It is limiting your ability to make creative artistic choices along the way. What we want to do is encourage you to expand on that by exploring MoreCAD, which gives you more free-form ability. That’s why we prefer the method we do, and that’s why we encourage people to choose the more free-form styles of CAD, whether it’s a program like Rhinoceros, which is a surface modeling program, or a program like Z-Brush, which is more pixel-based. There are definitely programs that are more conducive to the artistic process and not the engineering process.
Nothing wrong with engineering parts. Nothing wrong with creating CAD files via code. But it is not art. It is purely engineering and making codes.
Coding, design, and S-CAD
We also heard from another person named Rob Hall. He had a beef with us about knocking making CAD through scripting. He has a different point about using S-CAD, which is a coding language used on Thingiverse and other places for some of those models where you can type in some variables like text and it puts your name on the model automatically. Again, nothing wrong with doing that as a part of your process. You’re adding that to the model you’ve created, so it gives it some capability. S-CAD can do some great things, and there are other code applications or languages that can enhance 3D CAD models that you make to perform certain functions. We are going to distinguish doing that from the artistic process and the design. Design is a very over-used term, and that is unfortunate.
In the engineering field, there are positions of piping design, which is laying out how piping works within an architectural building. I feel like I’ve had this beef so many times with my dad in conversations who is an engineer. It’s either an artist or a design engineer; there is nothing in between in his mind. Design means different things to different people, and it is an over-used term. I think calling it art and the artistic side of things and the innovative process are better ways to describe it.
I don’t mean to dismiss design engineering by any means. It is a critical part of making great products. Tom and I believe in it thoroughly. The artistic process is what gives you so many possibilities. It is what helps you figure out to make, and why yours looks different, and what form it should take. It’s the exciting part of the process to me. I want everyone else to get to experience that, and I don’t want them to be limited in the choices of how they choose to learn how to 3D print keeps them out of the ability to experience that as well. That is why I am encouraging people not to design by code.
It’s hard enough to get really good at 3D printing and understanding how it works and doing a good job at it. You have to become enough of a technician with certain 3D printers to be able to execute your designs, whatever they may be. To then have to learn to code to create those objects, which will take people a lot longer to learn and create those objects than it will to use some other more conventional CAD program.
In all fairness, the people who are coming out of it are already coders to begin with. They already like lines of code; that is their mode of preference already, so that’s why they head into doing that for 3D printing. The very first guy I ever heard talk about doing it by G-code, that’s exactly where it came from. They already have an affinity toward that.
What I am saying is that the creative possibilities of what you can do with it and how far you can take it are much greater if you increase your media and vocabulary of tools that you can use into something that allows that intuitive process to take over. I find it hard to believe that some of the artistic creations that I would make and then execute in CAD that are very free-form, flowing objects, I would love to see how long it would take for someone to create that same thing in code. Would it exactly be the same thing? I have a hard time believing that it would be the same form. You just invited us to get reverse-engineered. Maybe so.
It took you 200 hours, 100 of which were design time and 100 of technical time to do the 3D tie. Thinking about that, I am really curious to see if that could happen. Maybe somebody could do it, but it would take them two or three times to do it. The mathematical equations required to achieve that geometry in the same way. There is an actual order and pattern to the framework with which I created it, but then there is a lot of free-form geometry within that framework… It would be interesting.
But that is the argument. Could you have created that form by thinking about it mathematically? Maybe? But I doubt it. Only if I was an astrophysicist in terms of my mathematic abilities.
This is the argument also. If you create an algorithm in the computer to do it, is that art? But if you create an algorithm and a computer does it, that’s not art either. It’s running a program. But all the power to you for creating an algorithm for it. It’s not like there isn’t some great skill involved in that. We’re not arguing about that. There is skill involved, and we’re not being dismissive of those skills that are required. They’re just not artistic ones. They are not those intuitive, artistic, creative skills that come from the subconscious brain.
Coding or Art – Agree to Disagree
Hopefully we can at least agree to disagree. We’re not necessarily trying to convince you that we’re right and you’re wrong. We just want to let you know where we’re coming from and encourage you to try it the other way. Only because we believe you guys can all be creative and do some amazing things by tapping into that creative process. Especially the younger generations who will be the future of this 3D printing industry, that is where they are going to start. They are not going to start coding it. They will start having visions of what they want to create and creating it in CAD. If we had to teach them all how to code it and create that CAD, the whole class would be about coding and not about creating things using 3D printing.
The other side of that is an interesting aside that John Assaraf told me. As we age, we lose our intuitive ability. It declines. It’s already in decline from the moment we hit school and they are telling us to sit still and start focusing. We lose that creative ability. If we really focused them on something that technical and detailed at that age, we would lose a crazy amount of creative thinking and designers in the process. That process of the brain starts to decline at that age, and by the time you’re our age, there is not much left to it unless you have put in a lot of practice to exercise that portion of our minds.
I’m excited that the teaching process isn’t going to mess with that thought process. We really can’t. How often can you get our six-year-old to sit still and really focus on that? We can barely get her to sit still long enough to get out what she wants to get out to get it 3D printed. I don’t think we’d be successful in that, and that’s a good thing. That means she will be more creative for a while longer, and the things she will think up later will be just amazing.
Feel free to comment, even if you disagree with us, that’s fine. Hopefully we can all respectfully agree to disagree and voice some different opinions on that subject. As always, you can find us anywhere on social media @hazzdesign.
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