Co.Design

VOID, An iPad Mag That Aims To Teach The Art Of Coding

Natalie Hanke's mag-app doesn't exist in the iTunes Store yet, but it should.

The visual programming language Processing is one of the coolest design tools out there, and I write about it all the time. But have I learned the language myself? No: because I have yet to stumble across the perfect "onboarding" experience, something that makes me forget about how difficult learning to program seems, while still building up the necessary "101-level" skills. A new iPad magazine called VOID would seem to be just what I'm looking for: it's gorgeous, immersive, and instructive, dedicated to the practice of creative coding, but aimed at non-coders. I can haz plz?

Just one problem: it doesn't exist. It's only a concept, created by a designer named Natalie Hanke. "I think learning code should be made an essential part of a designer's education, especially nowadays," Hanke tells Co.Design. "Not because I think that every designer should be able to code complex programs, but because the nature of code is an analytical one: It's the nature of looking at a problem and figuring out a solution. Coding can help us to think in more abstract ways which can be of great help in a lot of situations — and also not always necessarily related to the digital realm."

Hanke became enamored with creative coding (and Processing in particular) as a student designer, and VOID is her attempt at visualizing "the current state of available magazine apps for tablets and ways and possibilities to involve the user more into the magazine content." She decided to make VOID all about visual programming itself, since "it's giving immediate visual feedback, thus encouraging interaction and the game-play character, which is essential to the iPad as a medium. Also, the basics of the Processing environment are very easy to learn, which is another reason why I got interested in coding back then." (The name VOID is a reference to the "void setup {}" and "void draw {}" commands in Processing, which Hanke says "are the essential building blocks of each program.")

Void

[The app would include dossiers on all-stars of creative coding such as Ben Fry, complete with major works.]

Void-2

[Features on visual techniques walk the reader through the code behind them.]

The first "issue" of VOID contains collections of works by data-viz demigods like Aaron Koblin as well as tons of examples of generative art, which the user (if the app were real) would be able to tweak and manipulate visually, and then see the corresponding lines of Processing code highlighted in turn. "Interaction with the visual outcome of the source code will fuel their motivation to carry on coding, thus exploring more and more of the environment," Hanke explains. "Although VOID is still a concept, I would love to turn it into a real app. So if there are any programmers who would like to work with me on a non-commercial app, please feel free to contact me." Won't someone please take her up on this offer? VOID looks like so much more fun than buying a Processing textbook.

[Top image: The New York Talk Exchange, a visualization of IP traffic created by the MIT Senseable City Lab]

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7 Comments

  • Allastair

    Wow, this sounds awesome, I'd love it.

    Right now I use Coders app for programming on an iPad. It is not as powerful as Processing, but it's great especially when explaining what programming is about to my son. We love that app.

  • aerodi

    I loved the idea!
    just started dabbling with Processing and I know you can´t learn to ride a bike unless you climb one, but videos are always a great introduction for learning any skill.

    This project should go into Kickstarter.com for consideration. I would pledge and back it

  • Laura Serra

    Michael, I think it's not about coding on iOS but instead learning about Processing through the  interactive advantages of the iPad.

    Natalie, this is awesome! Great job!

  • Renee

    Michael has a point. When he says that it "doesn't work" he means that not only does the IDE not work on iOS but that you can't see the sketches either.

    So not only would you not be able to code anything, you couldn't even be able to see other peoples sketches. Which is apparently a feature of Void.

    There is a port of the language called Processing.js that I think can run on iPad's but I'm not sure. That's the only thing I can think of. Though there would have to be some additional work if they want to be able to highlight what code is being manipulated.

    Not even Processings error detection is good enough to do that in an intuitive and user friendly way.

    Still, I'd like to see, everyone should learn how to program. It really isn't that hard.

  • Michael Shirley

    Processing doesn't work on iOS. If you are going to make an app about learning code you should at least have an understanding of the platforms and the languages to correspond to them. Plus I can't imagine anything more miserable than trying to code on a tablet.