What is Creative Coding?

Data-Design Dictionary
A dictionary to illuminate data-driven generative design and creative coding.


Creative Coding is a place where experience in the field of design, love of explorative creativity and skills as a programmer come together. Unbound by commercial purpose and driven by free flow, it is a design approach that inspires and motivates to constantly challenge existing limits and unfold new creative possibilities. Discovery-based, iterative Creative Coding projects and artifacts often lay the groundwork for future commercial generative design systems. As such, Creative Coding can be understood as the ideation process of generative design and dynamic brand identities.

Visual results of Creative Coding-based project are often the end result of an ongoing process of experimentation and systemic design. The motivation behind Creative Coding is oftentimes less about getting to a preconceived result quickly but rather to explore how encoding rules produces inventive results. Thus, in contrast to traditional programming, Creative Coding focuses mainly on expression rather than functionality. This process is often guided and enabled by structured and logical problem-solving strategies that are based on computational thinking and systemic thinking.

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Creative Coding is about free exploration. You could say it’s a reflection on technology itself. A play with code and design, and an invitation to combine the two worlds. Unlike in classical programming, in Creative Coding mistakes are not annoying, but welcome, because they often produce exciting results, lead an idea in new directions and the creative individual step by step to a goal they may never have set. This process in itself is very creative. Creative Coding is about approaching a graphic vision through programming and being surprised again and again by the results along the way. It’s a kind of co-creation with the machine.

[..] Creative Coding, defined by Mitchell & Bown (2013, 143) as ‘a discovery-based process consisting of exploration, iteration, and reflection, using code as a primary medium, towards a media artefact designed for an artistic context.‘”[1]

Additional quotes about
Creative Coding

“‘Creative Coders’ are artists, designers, architects, musicians, and poets who use computer programming and custom software as their chosen media. These practitioners blur the distinction between art and design and science and engineering, and in their slippery interdisciplinarity, may best be described with the German word Gestaltern, or ‘creators of form’.”[2]

“[..] many of these creative coding toolkits [..] have radically democratized software development, positioning programming as a potent mode of cultural inquiry.”[3]

“Creative Coding is… iterative, experimental, playful, serendipitous, pushing boundaries, critical.”[4]

“Creative coding is an interdisciplinary field composed of diverse practitioners that have fostered their own shared practices, and whose works treat digital technologies as material for creative practice. The community of creative coders that has established itself in the Netherlands is composed of a range of creatives coming from different fields: they are artists, designers, programmers, performers, musicians, scientists, and craftsmen. [..]”[5]

“In my Creative Coding courses, it has never been my mission to make graphic designers fully-fledged programmers. That, I know, is never going to happen—nor should it. By teaching graphic designers how to create visual output through the medium of code, I hope to instill in them an understanding of how programming can be a highly versatile and useful addendum to their skill set, not only as a practical tool, but also, in a meta-cognitive way, informing how they think, plan, and execute visual communication. In my view, educating code-literate graphic designers is essential for the continued development of graphic design as a discipline.”[6]

“In creative coding, programmers enter into a creative dialogue with the computer. They speak to it in a language it understands (code) and formulate instructions for displaying visual objects on a surface. At first, they have little control over the computer’s behavior. That’s perfectly okay, because surprising results always lead to new ideas and perspectives.”[7]

[4] Fabian Van Sluijs, Axelle van Wynsberghe, Editorial in: Hello World! Exhibition Catalogue, published by Creative Coding Utrecht, 2018, p. 5
[5] Fabian Van Sluijs, Axelle van Wynsberghe, Editorial in: Hello World! Exhibition Catalogue, published by Creative Coding Utrecht, 2018, p. 4
[6] Stig Møller Hansen: public class Graphic_Design implements Code { // Yes, but how? }. an investigation towards bespoke Creative Coding programming courses in graphic design education, Aarhus Universitet 2019, p.14
[7] Tim Rodenbröker: What is Creative Coding?, (2024, January 22nd)
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