When we think of visual design, we usually think about visual aesthetics. So what does coding have anything to do with it? Students at the Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) School of Design combine the 2 elements seamlessly as they work towards enhancing the interaction between their product and its target users.
Using micro:bit for visual design
In their Experimental Branding course, the NYP School of Design looks at different ways for students to incorporate digital technologies to enhance their visual design. To ease students without an IT background into using coding with their designs, the course utilises the micro:bit, which lets users simply drag and drop blocks of code.
Ho Huey Lu, senior lecturer at School of Design, further explained the rationale for using the micro:bit in this course, “Our students are groomed to become visual designers. Micro:bit seems to be the easiest platform in terms of visual coding and makes it easy for our students to understand the logic and thinking behind it.”
During the course, students are given free rein to explore ideas. After they propose an idea, they receive feedback from their instructors on the scale and feasibility of the project. They then set the problem statement and come up with the solution by incorporating the micro:bit into their product prototype. At the final stage, the students formulate business plans to make their projects commercially viable and pitch their products to investors.
The coding experience
With the fresh new approach to design, how did students take to incorporating coding into their work?
Joseph Chee, a second-year student in visual communications, is a first time user of micro:bit. He feels that the choice of device provided a good platform for those with no coding experience to learn and transition to using advanced coding in the future.
Fellow course-mate Joshua Steven echoed the sentiment, “I have done coding before, but the block-based interface of micro:bit makes it even easier to understand.”
The technical simplicity of the micro:bit processor allowed Chee and Steven to direct most of their energy towards ideation. The results are impressive, with both students managing to imbue their projects with new functionality using coding.
Chee’s project is a massive wall projection for a social awareness campaign. While traditional visual designers would have put up a static graphic as the projection, Chee’s use of microprocessors transformed an unengaging display into an immersive experience. The microprocessors enabled Chee to incorporate giant joysticks into the display, allowing viewers to interact with the wall projection as they would a game. “With the micro:bit, I had the opportunity to infuse interactivity and really engage my audience,” Chee shared.
Joseph Chee happily standing beside his project presentation.
Steven’s project on the other hand has pushed the capabilities of microprocessors even further. Suitable for deployment at park connectors all over Singapore, the prototype is a motion sensor that warns cyclists of potential safety hazards ahead.
Steven explained further, “Some areas in the park connectors may not be well lit or may have obstructions. This product senses the passing cyclist and lights up the path ahead to warn the cyclist to be careful.” From the experience of using micro:bit in his design, Steven shared how using the device helped him in his project, “The micro:bit widens my scale of design and allows me to create an actual working product.”
Joshua Steven stands proudly beside his product, a safety warning system for cyclists.
By incorporating coding and microprocessors, Chee and Steven managed to create commercially viable projects that can be put to the test in the real world, proving that coding and visual design can indeed go together!
Beyond the coding
While the introduction of micro:bit at NYP School of Design has allowed their students to start meaningfully using digital technology into their work, the school sees it as just the first step.
Ho explained, “Visual designers are visual communicators, and just one of the tools they can use is the microbit. The intention is to use the logic and thinking behind coding to open our students to other possibilities.”
For the students, they are more than happy to have coding as part of their learning process. “Many people think that coding is a very hard subject. Coding actually makes things more interactive. If you have a good idea or concept, coding can make it come alive. Don’t be afraid to try new things!” Steven enthused.
Chee agreed, adding, “I believe coding can complement what the student is studying. In this day and age, there are a lot of things we can do with this technology.”
(Left to right) NYP School of Design students Joseph Chee and Joshua Steven stand with their lecturers, Ho Huey Lu and Mark Wong.
Ho was happy to add, “Our students were pushed out of their comfort zone to experiment with their projects. Their spirit of trying is the most impressive. They use their resourcefulness to explore the unknown and even try out other platforms beyond the micro:bit. It became a learning experience for everyone including the lecturers.”
In the foreseeable future, NYP School of Design will continue to incorporate different technologies for their students to explore. It will also review the current curriculum and decide how to best conduct it next year.
This being the first time collaborating with IMDA, Ho shared her thoughts with us. “It has been a good experience. We will be more than happy to hear what IMDA has in terms of initiatives and programmes for the future.”
To learn more about the NYP School of Design, visit their website here