Why teach coding to art & design students?

A survey and literature review exploring the topic / potential of teaching programming to art & design students

study initially conducted 2017-18; re-edited 2020-21

Abstract / Summary


The skill of programming is increasingly used in creative practices. Where this is the case, either the final work itself derived from programming or self-created digital tools were involved in the process of creating the work. Acknowledging this persistent trend, it seems timely to think about if there is a place for teaching programming in curriculums of creative study subjects that are not inherently involved in digital production (e.g. Fine Arts, Graphic- and Product-Design vs. Interactive- or Game-Design).


The study aims to gather arguments* in relation to teaching programming to students in the creative fields, to present these arguments in a structured way and to make them accessible to relevant stakeholders.

Foremost this addresses the questions of in how far teaching how to code is relevant for art and design disciplines in higher education and which implications can be expected if doing so.

* with arguments are meant reasoned views, positions and opinions on the subject


A literature review and an email survey were conducted. A method was tested to evaluate literature sources formally for assumed relevance by visually analysing word-cloud representations of the most frequent key-words. All literature sources and survey responses were contextually analysed whereby interpretative, summarising comments on relevant text passages were formed and categorised. The study uses a qualitative research method with open coding scheme, i.e. a strategy where categories are not pre-defined, but derive from the process of analysing the sources.


A considerable amount of arguments was extracted and classified. More than 130 arguments are grouped in 10 main categories – some of those further divided into several sub-categories. In addition to listing the arguments in enumerated, tabular form, a visual representation of the concluding categories was constructed as a mind-map inspired diagram, which serves as a comprehensive overview of the issues addressed.


The majority of arguments are in favour of teaching programming – this for various reasons; though with a focus on calling for empowerment by widening the spectrum of possibilities in creative expression and for keeping up with developments in an increasingly technology-influenced society, both practically and conceptually.

But also critical voices came to attention – mostly concerned about an implicit thrive in commodification of creative endeavours (enforcing negative socio-economical trends), the danger of de-personification, a possible constringence of tools / techniques (if leading to a narrowly specialised focus), and last but not least, questioning the level of relevance in aesthetic expression.

The study identified challenges that would need to be addressed on the way to higher integration into the curriculum, especially if it were considered to be made compulsory. Nevertheless, no objections were raised to teaching programming as an optional part or specialisation area of studies in the creative fields.

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