The explosion of the Web and its accessible programming languages has drawn broad participation in new forms of software production and creative practice, and in doing so, challenged established professionalised and “disciplined” conceptions of computer code and programming. While acknowledging and celebrating expanded conceptions of computing practice it should also be recognised that computation has been fundamentally interdisciplinary since its inception; the earliest computing machines were used by physicists, meteorologists, cryptographers and biologists. Computation is in a sense indifferent to disciplines, reducible ultimately to a simple set of formal operations. This is not to reduce or dissolve disciplinary differences, but to create a common ground, a machine that in its indifference fosters connections between disparate domains. Here computation is a verb, not a noun it makes things happen. It does not simply link different domains but engages them in action, in joint projects and creations.
To explore this proposition, this paper examines two recently completed projects (for the Museum of Australian Democracy and the State Library of Queensland) focused on representing and exploring data and collections in public contexts. The case studies demonstrate some of the ways in which computing serves as a site for creative collaboration across and between disciplines, institutions and frameworks. Data is shown to be a creative material as well as a shared language, with data linking creative practitioners with the concerns and conventions of historians, librarians, archivists, curators and information managers. Design plays a vital role in forming tangible representations of significant data that would otherwise remain abstract. The processes and final products of these transdisciplinary collaborations provide an ideal context for reflection on the qualities and boundaries of authorship and artisanal production in contemporary digital design.