Scott Murray, a code artist, has written Interactive Data Visualization for the Web for nonprogrammers. In this interview, Scott provides some insights on what inspired him to write an introduction to D3 for artists, graphic designers, journalists, researchers, or anyone that is looking to begin programming data visualizations.
What inspired you to become a code artist?
Scott Murray: I had designed websites for a long time, but several years ago was frustrated by web browsers’ limitations. I went back to school for an MFA to force myself to explore interactive options beyond the browser. At MassArt, I was introduced to Processing, the free programming environment for artists. It opened up a whole new world of programmatic means of manipulating and interacting with data — and not just traditional data sets, but also live “data” such as from input devices or dynamic APIs, which can then be used to manipulate the output. Processing let me start prototyping ideas immediately; it is so enjoyable to be able to build something that really works, rather than designing static mockups first, and then hopefully, one day, invest the time to program it. Something about that shift in process is both empowering and liberating — being able to express your ideas quickly in code, and watch the system carry out your instructions, ultimately creating images and experiences that are beyond what you had originally envisioned.
Why did you decide to write Interactive Data Visualization for the Web?
Who do you envision reading this book? What will they learn after reading your book?
Any words of advice for an aspiring code artist?
Scott Murray: Start making things now. I get to work with students, and I see them get stuck in their heads, trying to plan out every last detail before they start working on a project. This results in the project never starting at all, or being finished in a very rushed fashion. People (myself included) often have a tendency to over-think things, especially intimidating projects that will involve learning something new, or trying something we’ve never tried. While thinking is good, over-thinking prevents us from doing. And, in reality, doing is a critical part of thinking — you can’t really separate the two. So I suggest getting comfortable with not knowing what you’re doing before you do it. Just start making things now, today, even if you feel underprepared or like you don’t have all the answers you need yet. Guess what? No one has all the answers (even though we pretend to). We’re all just here figuring this stuff out as we go. So don’t over-think it, start producing projects, and get those projects out in the world. You’ll learn what you need to learn along the way.
This interview was edited and condensed.