Visual Programming for Designers

Duks Koschitz, Phd, Assoc. Prof in Design & Technology, (Co-Principal Investigator)
Eric Rosenbaum, (Co-Principal Investigator)
Bernat Romagosa, (main Developer)
Ada Mitchev, Aleksandra Chechel, (Research Assistants)

Sponsoring Agency: Pratt Innovation Fund
Amount awarded:
$20,000
Year / duration: 2014 to present
Type of research: Academic Research in Design Pedagogy and Computation
Project site: beetleblocks.com


We developed a visual programming language, called Beetle Blocks that is easy to learn and helps novice programmers to get used to procedural or algorithmic thinking. The RAs involved in this project have tested the software and have been substantial contributors to the new U.I., tutorials, and examples that were used in many workshops and courses.

We address fundamental pedagogical issues and nuances by making programming accessible to designers by way of a new programming language we invented. ‘Beetle Blocks’ is a blocks language that is in the lineage of Logo, the language Seymour Papert (MIT) used, which allows novice programmers to move a cursor via simple instructions. Beetle Blocks introduces a three-dimensional (3d) microworld and designers can learn how to write programs that create 3d structures. Learners receive visual feedback from the language while working on a design problem that is visual as well. The online software tool operates as a teaching device for algorithmic thinking while its visual approach supports the kind of visual thinking architecture students practice.

Beetle Blocks is based on Snap! by Brian Harvey and Jens Moenig, but has origins in Mitchell Resnick’s (MIT) project, Scratch. The underlying geometric paradigm uses turtle geometry that can be used for simple instruction sets for discrete geometry. The turtle, in our case the Beetle, is a cursor that can be moved about in a 3d world similar to StarLogo. Beetle Blocks follows the convention of using blocks that can be snapped together into stacks, which represents the program that creates a 3d structure.

Beetle Blocks Interface with woven design
Beetle Blocks UI with a stack of blocks in the center and a lattice structure on the right

 

Beetle Blocks UI with a random walk on a sphere
Beetle Blocks UI with a random walk on a sphere that produces a 3D printed outcome.

 

Drawing and Modeling with visual code can produce material artifacts from digital abstraction.

 

Students can explore algorithms with visual three-dimensional consequences in real-time.

 

Duks Koschitz is an Associate Professor at Pratt Institute since 2013. He is the Director of the Design Lab, a research initiative that supports professors, who pursue research projects. He wrote his Ph.D. at M.I.T. on Curved-crease Paperfolding and developed a teaching tool called ‘Beetle Blocks’ with Eric Rosenbaum. Duks has held several research positions at M.I.T. and the ETH in Zurich. Duks co-founded sparc and was the lead designer at NMDA from 2000 to 2007. He worked at Office da, Morphosis, Eric O. Moss, Asymptote, Coop Himmelblau, and Ian Ritchie Architects. He graduated from the Technical University in Vienna in 1998.

Bernat is a software engineer from Barcelona. He learned Smalltalk at a course given by Dr. Jordi Delgado at the Citilab (Barcelona) in 2008, where he was later hired to develop an online programming school, a social knowledge management system, and different educational applications. He is the author and lead developer of Snap4Arduino and, since 2013, also the lead developer of Beetle Blocks. He is currently working for Arduino SRL, where he keeps developing and maintaining Snap4Arduino. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s degree in Free Software, both from the Open University of Catalonia.

Eric Rosenbaum recently completed his doctorate at MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group, with the dissertation “Explorations in Musical Tinkering.” He combines his love for music, improvisation, making, and learning to invent new technologies for playful creation. He is the co-inventor of the MaKey MaKey invention kit. His other projects include Singing Fingers, an iPad app for finger painting with sound; Glowdoodle software for painting with light; and MelodyMorph, an iPad app for creating musical instruments and playable compositions. Eric holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Technology in Education from Harvard University.