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Digital Creativity: a Practical Guide

Creative coding

A practical guide to getting digitally creative and using digital tools and technologies to explore work, ideas, and research.

Getting creative with coding

Computer coding, also known as programming, allows you to give computers instructions to make them do things, from display content on a webpage to run entire games and applications. You might think it is more about logic and numbers than creativity, so let's take a look at how it can be creative and how you might get involved with coding.

How can coding be creative?

Coding has traditionally been seen as separate from creativity to many people, but this is not the case. There's a whole range of ways in which coding can be creative and be part of creative work:

  • Coding can be used to create a huge range of creative outputs, from websites to visualisations to games and apps.
  • You can creatively solve problems using coding, getting computers to do things you otherwise couldn't.
  • Lots of creative technologies, like robots, game engines, and tools like Arduino, use coding at least partly to control outputs and make things.
  • The act of writing code is itself often very creative, from puzzle-solving to patterns and communication.

Coding languages like Processing and p5.js (the JavaScript version of Processing) are made with artists and designers in mind, meaning they are particularly suited to working in a creative way. Other coding languages like JavaScript and Python have many libraries that can bring in creative functionality from text generation to game and image development.

p5.js code that creates a simple drawing app, demonstrating by drawing the word Drawing! in it
A drawing app creating using p5.js - try it out.

How might coding help my research?

For some people, coding is an important part of their research because they need to do simulations or data analysis using a particular coding language. But what if you've never considered how coding might be useful?

One of the key reasons why coding might be useful in your research is if you have data of any kind that you might want to analyse or visualise. This doesn't have to be numerical data - you can work with text data in languages like Python too. Rather than having to rely on existing tools doing what you want to do with data, you basically write what you need to do yourself, giving you extra freedom to find new ways of looking at and presenting your data.

Coding also can give you new ways to communicate your research, whether through visualisations or through creating programs for people to engage with your research in an interactive way.

Get started with computer coding

If you're completely new to computer coding, don't worry! There are plenty of guides and courses you can use to learn to code. Typically you will start learning a particular coding language and through this process you'll learn key concepts in coding whilst starting to make things.

Our Coding Practical Guide is a good place to start, with guidance on key terminology and how to choose which coding language to learn, along with resources and learning suggestions for a range of coding languages:

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