So what is it exactly? An artist? An engineer? A tinkerer? A maker? An inventor? Or non of these things?
Before I dive into my current definition of what it is, let me rewind back to when I first discovered this term: creative technology. I was pretty good with math and sciences, and so the most straightforward path for me was to major in engineering in college. I decided to do mechanical engineering because, as a freshman in college, I believed it was the broadest kind of engineering and I love to work with my hands and make things. Even though I was also very interested in art and design, I never seriously considered majoring in those because they were not “practical” enough and the career path was more ambiguous and may not be as lucrative. To me, art was always on one side, and engineering was always on the other. Not until I took a class called Interactive Art and Computational Design when I threw that way of thinking out the window. From that point on, not only that I believed art and engineering to not be separate, they are actually very complementary to each other.
But Patt, what do you really mean?
Okay, let me explain. If you think about making art in terms of a tool and an application. This class has taught me that I can use my technical skills as a tool to express myself creatively. So just like an artist using a paintbrush to create beautiful paintings, I use code to create beautiful “things”. And that is the best part of it all. You can use your technical skillset to create whatever you want. Whatever you can imagine.
So now, let me break down my most recent definition of what I think a creative technologist is.
A creative technologist is someone who uses technology as a tool to make something creative. It is quite broad, so let’s break it down further.
I think of it in terms of three categories: (1)Input (2) Process (3) Output
Input is where you come up with what you want to make. This can come from all sorts of things. Ideas you find interesting, inspirations, problems you face on a daily basis, something you are curious about and want to learn more, questions you want to answer. The world is your oyster.
Output answers two things: In what form do you want the creation to look like? And what is the goal of this project? A caveat to the second question. There doesn’t need to be a conventional goal to the project. It can be whatever you want. Don’t limit yourself. It doesn’t have to be useful. It could be to make people laugh. Or to create some beautiful graphics to watch in your free time. Or to learn a new way of doing things. Think like a kid. Let your imagination go wild.
I made an egg step sequencer and got a comment saying, "What's the point of this?" Yes, you heard that right. It’s not a normal step sequencer. It is an egg step sequencer. But yes, what’s the point of this project? Maybe because I had too many eggs in the fridge? Maybe the idea made me laugh so I wanted to see how I could make it to work? Whatever it was, I made it. And it was great.
Okay now that we have the Input and the Output covered, let’s talk about the Process. How do I make it happen? The Output already answers the format in which you want this “something” to look like. It may be something physical or digital. It may be a software. Whatever it is, now you need to figure out how to make it. Make Google your best friend. You will need some basic programming, but honestly there are so many free resources out there to help you get started easily and quickly. So don’t let anything stop you.
Back to the definition: a creative technologist is someone who uses technology as a tool to make something creative. And I use the Input Process Output framework to help me think through how to turn ideas into reality.
You might repeat: But this is still so broad Patt.
And I would have to say, you should be glad it is so broad! This is because you can be inspired by anything in the world! Because you can always find something new and interesting. Because when you are curious about something, your brain leads you to some other thing and on and on. So let your curiosity be your guide and start making. The world is changing so fast, so instead of waiting for someone to invent something for you. Why don’t start with an idea and figure out the process, experiment, fail, learn, itinerate, and create an output that lives up to your own imagination. I hope to inspire you to start building, feed your curiosity, learn new things, build confidence and put something creative out into the world. I say creative. I didn’t say useful. It might become useful if that’s the goal. Or it may be useful in the future. But it doesn’t have to start with that. You know how they say, focus on the process and not the destination. Whatever the definition of a creative technologist is.
My conclusion is that anyone can be one. Any one who is curious and has a desire to bring ideas into reality.