Print Designer Learns to Code


Let me make this clear from the start: I am no expert when it comes to coding. I barely know the difference between ActionScript and C++ and couldn’t pick out the syntax for PHP from a lineup. I’m a print designer, which, in the Real Art world, is as far away from having to know how to code as you can get.

But this year for Christmas, I decided I wanted to do something completely out of my realm of knowledge. On the print floor, we have an ongoing joke about being able to whip up a quick project on an Arduino, a small microcontroller board with its own software language that the interactive team here at Real Art uses pretty frequently. I thought, what if I actually could whip up a small little Arduino project? It’d be a rad Christmas gift and I’d learn something new along the way. So I decided on a relatively simple idea: an Arduino-powered clock with LEDs that lit up at certain times of day.

I researched online, bought the hardware I needed, and had Marc Stevens give me a crash course on soldering and wiring. Once the hardware was taken care of, I started my first sketch (software written using Arduino). Arduino, an open-source platform, encourages users to share their projects and code online for free, so I was able to learn the Arduino language by example.

As I got deeper into my clock project, I started to realize that learning how to code (and build and solder and wire) could benefit me as a print designer in so many more ways than just making a dope Christmas gift. At Real Art, being a print designer doesn’t just mean designing pieces for print. We’re the ones that projects start with. There’s almost always at least one print designer in initial brainstorms for brand new projects, no matter what the medium. If it’s a physical piece, we’re there. I always wrote off Arduino as this foreign little piece of metal and plastic with a ridiculous name that I’d probably never understand anything about. But once I started to learn more about Arduino and how it worked, it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities. Now, I have a better idea of what it can do, which allows for so much more creative input.

At Real Art a while ago, we had a weekly Design vs. Code competition. A designer would switch roles with a developer and they’d each solve a problem that the other had posed, usually producing pretty hilarious results on both ends. It was a fun experiment, but also revealed how much designers and programmers need each other in this current digital age. Print isn’t dead and programming isn’t impossible, because both have evolved to work with each other. Take a look at some of our coolest, most successful projects—The Claw, MARV, and Proto, to name just a few—and you’ll realize that the one thing they all have in common is their seamless integration of wonderful design and inventive programming. It’s not about design vs. code, but design and code.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a print designer through and through. I’m not moving to the third floor any time soon, and I’m going to continue to happily let Pat and Dustin’s team do all the programming. But from now on, don’t be surprised if, between all my posts about hand-lettering, an Arduino project or two pops up my Instagram feed. Because, besides everything else I’ve learned about programming, there’s one more thing: this shit is fun.

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