28: Interactivity

Interactivity (DESMA 28)
Winter 2018
UCLA Department of Design Media Arts

Professor: Casey Reas (Office Hour: Monday 1-2pm, Broad 3224)
TA: Sarah Brady (Code Clinic: Thursday noon to 1pm, Broad 4220)

Monday & Wednesday
9:00–11:50 AM
Broad Art Center Room 4220


This course is an introduction to writing code within the context of the visual arts. It promotes conditional and systemic thinking. The ideas and skills taught in this course set a foundation for future Design Media Arts courses about the internet (161), game design (157), tangible media (152), and media arts (159A, 171).


This course asks a few questions:

How has software affected the visual arts?
What is the potential of software within the visual arts?
As a designer or artist, why would I want (or need) to write software?

Software influences all aspects of contemporary visual culture. Many established artists have integrated software into their process. Prominent designer, artists, and architects not only use software, they commission custom software to help them realize their unique ideas. The creators of every innovative video game and Hollywood animated film write custom software to enhance their work.

While these developments are taking place at the highest levels of their respective professions, integrating them into education is a challenge. For even the most motivated student, the technical boundaries are difficult to overcome and getting beyond them requires tremendous dedication. As a comprehensive first introduction to the potential of software development within a broad range of the arts, this course aspires to encourage the enthusiasm.

In reference to the emerging media of his time, the eminent media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote: "Today we're beginning to realize that the new media aren't just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression." Writing code is one gateway into these "new and unique powers of expression." Learning to program and to engage the computer more directly with code opens the possibility to create not only tools, but systems, environments, and new modes of expression. It is here that the computer ceases to be a tool and becomes a medium.


There are a set of workshops and five projects. Each workshop introduces new ideas, while each project is a mix of conceptual, visual, and technical challenges.


The % breakdown follows:
5% Project 1
5% Project 2
20% Project 3
20% Project 4
40% Project 5
10% Participation

All projects are evaluated on how well they demonstrate an understanding of the material, as well as their originality and aesthetic qualities. Feedback will be qualitative through discussion and numeric scores will also be given for all work. Participation means punctuality, focus, articulation of your ideas, and contribution to class discussions.

More than two unexcused absences will lower your final grade by one unit (i.e. an A will become an B). With each additional unexcused absence, the grade will drop an additional unit.

Late assignments may be accepted, but points will be deducted from the score.

Class starts at 9:00. If you are over 10 minutes late, you will receive a tardy. Three tardies is equivalent to one absence.

If there is an emergency and you will be late or absent from the class, please email me or the TA to discuss the situation.

No cellphone use in class. No checking personal e-mails, Facebook, etc. during class.

Ask questions, make comments, contribute to discussions.
Learn from your peers; the class is a collaboration.

If you feel frustrated or you come across other problems, please communicate with me directly and quickly.



  • Getting Started with Processing, Second Edition by Casey Reas and Ben Fry. Maker Media, 2015
  • Learning Processing videos by Dan Shiffman. (Available free online.)
  • Form+Code in Design, Art, and Architecture by Casey Reas and Chandler McWilliams. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010

Coding Resources

Commitment to Diversity

We understand the classroom as a space for practicing freedom; where one may challenge psychic, social, and cultural borders and create meaningful artistic expressions. To do so we must acknowledge and embrace the different identities and backgrounds we inhabit. This means that we will use preferred pronouns, respect self-identifications, and be mindful of special needs. Disagreement is encouraged and supported, however our differences affect our conceptualization and experience of reality, and it is extremely important to remember that certain gender, race, sex, and class identities are more privileged while others are undermined and marginalized. Consequently, this makes some people feel more protected or vulnerable during debates and discussions. A collaborative effort between the students, TA, and instructor is needed to create a supportive learning environment. While everyone should feel free to experiment creatively and conceptually, if a class member points out that something you have said or shared with the group is offensive, avoid being defensive; instead approach the discussion as a valuable opportunity for us to grow and learn from one another. Alternatively if you feel that something said in discussion or included in a piece of work is harmful, you are encouraged to speak with the instructor or TA.