Typrograms : the shaped typography of computer programs

Leis Allion, Marcus (2015) Typrograms : the shaped typography of computer programs. In: Face Forward; 11 - 12 Dec 2015, Dublin, Ireland. (Unpublished)


Despite their engagement with computational media, programming has largely escaped any detailed analysis or development from the typographic community. The approach has largely been to examine the possibilities programming presents and not its typographic or aesthetic features. Thus, programs, source code, and other textual interfaces are treated as tools that enable the designer to perform tasks or achieve certain effects. Code is understood as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself. As such, the typographic possibilities of code remain critically under examined, particularly when one considers how much typography effects our perception of a texts content. Within the computing community things are somewhat different. The typography of code has been explored from a number of different vantage points, many of which correspond to the considerations of many type designers and typographers. This has included the development of: coder specific typefaces; code poetry; and the visual arrangement of code itself. This paper will focus primarily on a particular set of shaped programs produced by participants of The International Obfuscated C Code Contest (IOCCC). The goal of participants of the IOCCC is to write the most complicated looking C program in computer code possible. This is code that is made difficult for a reader to understand and follow through the textual source. Thus, the emphasis of the contest is not focused on what the program does, but on what the source code looks like. A number of entrants have therefore chosen to include an extra layer of semiotic meaning. Through careful arrangement of the source code, the IOCCC participants have been able to write programs that represents an idea, concept or convey its function through pictorial resemblance to a physical object. For example, source code has been shaped to resemble: mazes; fractals; arrow pointers; faces; and an airplane. Thus, it is the typography, not the obscured code, that provides one with an indication of the programs functionality. As one programmer notes, “if you're not sure what it does, looking at the code should give you a fair idea” (Rosten, 2001 cited in Berry, 2011, p.90). In that sense these programs are similar to technopaegnia and other ideogrammatic writing, as they visually self-document their content (the executed code effect). However, while ideograms tend to play themselves out on two levels of meaning (the hermeneutic and the visual) the ‘ideoprogam’ introduces a third layer, namely its functionality. As such, an ability to ‘read’ them is complicated further by an ability to compile and run them. Understanding both the functional and aesthetic possibilities of code provides an exciting new space for inter-disciplinary collaboration, typographic development, and research. This paper will be a step in that direction. References: Berry, David M. (2011). The Philosophy of Software. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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