Welcome to: Computational Design Practices (CDP)

It has been two decades since designers who became programmers marked the ‘restart’ of graphic design (Küsters and King 2001), and one decade since graphic designers working with programmatic logic was identified as the ‘new generation’ of graphic designers (Blauvelt 2011). Designing through programming, or ‘computational design’, has since been identified as a category of design taxonomy, the other two categories being ‘classical design’ (graphic design) and ‘design thinking’ (Maeda 2019). Designers build custom software, freeing themselves from the reinforced paradigms of existing standard software tools (Maeda 1999; Van Blokland & Van Rossum 2000; Fry & Reas 2014; Armstrong 2016) and, also, embrace key characteristics afforded by computational technologies, such as data-drivability and variability (Shim 2020). 

Despite the pervasiveness of computational media in the production, distribution, and experience of graphic design, and an increasing number of graphic designers who employ programming for reasons beyond functional affordances, computation as a creative medium has rarely been addressed in design education. When technologies are introduced in design classrooms, such as web design, interaction design, user experience, they are more so done in the context of utility-based services, than they are in emergent systems. 

A dedicated project to uncovering the general attitudes and understandings of computation by graphic designers was published as a special issue magazine titled ‘GRAPHIC #37: Introduction to Computation’ (ed. Shim 2016). Through expert interviews and essays, the issue provided spotlights on contemporary graphic designers who have embraced and used computation to create 3D printed letterpress types, installations with a custom drawing machine, experimental websites, permutable visual identities, large-scale digital installations that are responsive to user input or online data, and publications made with code. 

Taking a hybrid role between design and computation, designers have explored new frontiers in design. Computation offers a language and material that enables designers to be creative and express their ideas by constructing logic in algorithmic and parametric ways. It has shifted the way designers work with systems from developing mental models that require human labor to building generative systems that are written in code and operated by computers. As designers have become capable of utilizing automation, they have taken groundbreaking approaches to create compelling narratives, patterns and relationships with data. Artifacts have reflected economic, political, and socio-cultural issues through external data and responded to human behaviors in real-time through sensors. Through computational methods, processes of producing artifacts extended into spaces of collaboration and co-creation, often yielding outcomes that are performative and participatory. In these ways and more, designers have come to embrace and expand creative expression and storytelling in digital communication and interaction through flexible and fluid artifacts that continuously transform over time.  

Computational Design Practices (CDP) will be a living document that explores the areas, concepts, skills, and perspectives of computational design, through conversations with design practitioners and educators. It aims to define and demystify code-driven and data-driven approaches in design, and discuss new opportunities and challenges to using computation as a creative medium in the context of design practice and education. CDP will be developed and shared intermittently through AIGA DEC from 2022. For more information about CDP, submissions, and general queries, please contact Kyuha Shim (qshim@cmu.edu).

Kyuha Shim is a computational designer, researcher and educator who works in the integrative and interdisciplinary realm of art, design, and technology. Central to his practice and research is the use of computational thinking as a methodology for design in creating generative systems informed and driven by data. His work and research have been featured internationally (e.g., AIGA Eye on Design, Design Observer, GRAPHIC, IDPURE, Typeroom, Walker Art Center’s Gradients, Wired) and he has received numerous honors from Adobe Design Achievement Awards, A’Design, The American Institute of Graphic Arts, core77, Graphis, red dot Design Award, iF Design Award, IEEE, International Design Awards, International Society of Typographic Designer, The Association of Registered Graphic Designers, The Society of Typographic Arts, Spark, Type Directors Club (New York & Tokyo) and Output Award. He has exhibited internationally in museums and galleries including Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, Miller Institute of Contemporary Art in Pittsburgh, National Museum of the Republic in Brasilia, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, and ggg Gallery in Tokyo and in design festivals such as Open AGI, Beijing Design Week, Dubai Design Week, London Design Festival, Typojanchi (International Typography Biennial) and Seoul Design Olympic.

Shim is an Associate Professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is Director of Computational Creativity Lab. He serves as a National Steering Committee Member for Design Educators Community (DEC) of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and Education Director of AIGA Pittsburgh. 


Armstrong, H. Digital Design Theory: Readings from the Field. New York, USA: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016. 

Blauvelt, A. “Tool (Or, Post-production for the Graphic Designer.” In Graphic Design: Now in Production, edited by E. Lupton and A. Blauvelt, pgs.22–31. Minneapolis, USA: Walker Art Center, 2011.

Reas, C. & Fry, B. Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. 2nd ed. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press, 2014.

Shim, K. “Computational Approach to Graphic Design.” The International Journal of Visual Design, 14.1 (2016): pgs. 1–9. 

Shim, K., ed. GRAPHIC #37: Introduction to Computation. Seoul, Korea: Propaganda, 2016.  

Küsters, C. & King, E. Restart: New Systems in Graphic Design. London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2001. 

Maeda, J. How to Speak Machine. New York, USA: Penguin Random House, 2019.

Maeda, J. Design by Numbers. Cambridge, USA: MIT Press, 1999.

Van Blokland, E. & Van Rossum, J. LettError. Maastricht, The Netherlands: Charles Nypels Stitching, 2000.

By Kyuha Shim
Published November 9, 2021
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