Archive for August, 2013

Interdisciplinary Work –> good luck with that!

Posted in culture & media design, visual languages on August 23, 2013 by visualraccoon

Interdisciplinary work is like the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody wants to go out in the lightning storm.

Scott Kim, more than anyone I know, has served his time in the rain, suffering often the slings and thunderbolts of outraged categories.

Fortunately for him he not only persevered but thrived and got his interdisciplinary PhD. And fortunately for us, he has written a pithy summary of the issues, with graphic marginalia. From page 10 of the Introduction to his Viewpoint Dissertation:


On interdisciplinary work

Curiously, the word interdisciplinary exists only as an adjective. There are disciplines, but no interdisciplines. It is as if interdisciplinary people must forever wander homelessly. Thinking further about the nature of interdisciplinary work, I realized that the word “interdisciplinary” has several shades of meanings.

Castles. Disciplines are private, walled kingdoms sitting on neighboring hills. Occasionally, bilingual messengers carry news from one kingdom to another. The walls were originally built to defend territories. Nowadays kingdoms grudgingly accept that they must coexist.

Cracks. The world of knowledge is cut up into categories. Categories bring a sense of order and stability to an otherwise chaotic world. Some people don’t fit the categories, but instead fall between the cracks. For them we invent a new category: people who can’t be categorized.

Bridge-builder. Disciplines are islands separated by the sea of ignorance. Interdisciplinary people build bridges between islands so that others may cross. Without such bridges, passage between islands is difficult. One day, perhaps, all islands will be connected.



Fence-sitter. The boundaries between disciplines are marked by fences. Without such fences, we could never tell who owned what territory. Each person must decide where he or she belongs. Interdisciplinary people sit on the fence, never deciding which side to commit to.


Hats. Throughout the day, we all play many different roles: parent, child, teacher, student, worker, friend, creator, performer, viewer. Each role comes with its own hat. Interdisciplinary people wear several hats at once. Too many hats make balancing difficult.


Viewpoint. I named my project “Viewpoint” as a reminder of the subjective nature of perception. There is only one world, but many ways to view it. Different frames lead to different interpretations. Interdisciplinary people are able to switch points of view.

Differing viewpoints exist not only between disciplines but within disciplines. In computer science, a digital circuit designer views programming as a way of telling a computer what to do, where as a programmer views digital circuitry as a way of implementing an algorithm. In graphic design, a production artist views a design concept as way of figuring out what to do with tools, whereas a graphic designer views tools and techniques as ways of implementing a design.


All text and graphics © 2013 Scott Kim. All rights reserved.


The Viewpoint Thesis

Posted in culture & media design, visual languages on August 14, 2013 by visualraccoon

This is a visualraccoon Perspective on Scott Kim‘s very graphic and revolutionary exploration,

Viewpoint: Toward a Computer for Visual Thinkers

What would it be like to go back to visual first principles and take a fresh look at graphic user interfaces?

The Viewpoint Thesis is that a small number of pixel manipulation primitives can be defined such that if they are bound to keyboard and mouse actions it is then possible to build a simple text-graphic editor by drawing it, and that that editor can be used to draw-build itself.*

The Viewpoint Thesis & Editor is part of a larger project founded on the hypothesis that:

“Only by treating the screen itself as a first class citizen will we be able to build computers that are truly for visual thinkers.” Scott, 1987.

This project includes building visual programming languages for such thinkers.


* Full disclosure: “The Viewpoint Thesis” phrase and definition were made up by the raccoon and are not necessarily endorsed by Dr. Kim; the contents of this page have not been reviewed nor approved by Dr. Kim.

Here is Scott’s own introduction to Viewpoint, with historical context and a link to his PhD dissertation.

And let me repeat: this work is not merely disruptive, it’s revolutionary. When you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken was disrupted, but the pig was revolutionized.

Oh, a little too graphic for ya? Exactly!

“Graphic: Precisely and clearly expressed, leaving nothing to implication. Opposite of {implicit}.” from The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 (gcide)



If you think that Logic, Graphics, and Computing should not play together, let alone be intimate, then this aggressively interdisciplinary dissertation may not be for you.

However, if you find LGC — the Long Glorious Cord — to be inherently interesting, then read on and enjoy.

“It’s graphics, Jim, but not as we know it.”