Artists, Children, and Computers
The children in school's today have never heard the word "browser. For them, the browser is the computer...

Artists, Children, and Computers

December 9, 2019

While I usually write about art, today I'm going to write about the other subject I teach—technology and computer programming. This post is written to the entrepreneurs looking to build tools for artists and other child-like people. As an artist working in a co-op and a teacher in elementary schools, I am acutely aware of the ways in which artists and children interact with technology and the walls they hit. Here are some observations for code builders of the future looking to capture this audience.

Build everything in the browser

If you're building a stand-alone app that has to download to a hard drive, just stop doing that. Build everything to work in the browser and save to the cloud. For people of the future, the browser is the computer. In fact, the children of the future have never heard the word "browser." Since they are always in the browser, it has no name. If pressed, they might be able to say they are using  "Chrome."

I spent the first four lessons of a middle school computer programming class trying to explain to the students what a file was and how they could download one and open it on their computer before I just gave up. When I teach programming now, we just code in the browser. If you do not have kids in school, you may be unaware that all assignments are now in google classroom. The kids never see a file or download one. They just click on links to their assignments and fill out the assignment in the magical world of chrome. Then they click submit. This is what they expect. They do not understand how to get to microsoft word or photoshop because those are somewhere in the mysterious world of the harddrive, where they never go.

URLs: Forget about it.

The kids I teach don't relate to urls, just as they don't relate to typing in a phone number. They don't relate even to bitly urls. Yeah, you might have never heard of that, it's so two years ago. Artists and kids want type a few words in google and click on the first link that comes up. They expect you to text them your contact info. No memorizing! No typing! 

Photography: The Artist's Achilles Heel

I have used Adobe products for over 30 years, since PageMaker 1 on a Mac SE with a 512K harddrive. I am a big fan of Adobe, but lately, when I use photoshop and indesign, I feel like a person using a printing press or a mimeograph. These are the tools of the near past. Rapidly, artists, small business entrepreneurs and children expect these tools to be cheap, simple, and on the web. Many web interfaces are getting close to what people need. Some good examples are Mailchimp, Canva, Weebly and Wordpress. However, these still do not solve the problem of photography for most small business owners. People need a childlike interface that will allow them to upload a photograph from their phone and re-size it without ever having to enter a number. Artists and children do not like to measure things. They want to put their photo into a pre-formed box on a website and then magically move it around within the box and make it bigger or smaller with a touch screen. Even better, they want to resize the box with their finger too. If their photograph is too small for the space allotted, they need the program to show them that graphically.

I have tried to teach people the concept of dots-per-inch, print-resolution and web-resolution, but with little success. The application of the future will never talk about resolution. Instead it will just show you how big you can print the item on a press or on a webpage. If you haven't got the right size photograph, it will tell you the size you need so you can go retake the photograph. In someways, this won't even be a problem because the camera quality on phones today is so phenomenal that pretty soon you will be able to print an iphone picture on a highway billboard. Oh, wait, they already do that! OMG. 

Wordpress. Weebly. Wix. Never really brings happiness

I have used wordpress and its cousins to edit many different sites. Compared to hand coding a small-business website in css and html, Wordpress is pretty damn quick. It's a freaking miracle. But it never really makes me happy to work in it. By contrast I do enjoy coding in python. I do enjoy taking pictures on my iphone and editing them quickly in instagram. Somewhere down the line, someone is going to write a small-business website creator tool that is pleasurable to use. It will be on a device that is just a browser. All my photos will be magically available and re-scalable in a design I like. There won't be a url. You just type my name and you get there. 

That's my two cents. Get to it tech gods and goddesses!