Data, Computation and Creative Collaboration: Reflections on interdisciplinary digital design and research

Dr Geoff Hinchcliffe and Mitchell Whitelaw
2015 Conference

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.

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About the author

Geoff Hinchcliffe is an academic, researcher and designer in the Faculty of Arts & Design at the University of Canberra. His professional experience spans print, TV, multimedia, and web. His practice­ based research is concerned with generative design, interface aesthetics and data poetics. Geoff is currently Head of the Graphic Design & Media Arts department, and a core member of the Digital Treasures program in the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research. Examples of work and associated ramblings can be found at


Mitchell Whitelaw is an academic, writer and practitioner with interests in new media art and culture, especially generative systems, data-aesthetics, and digital cultural collections. His work has appeared in journals including Leonardo, Digital Creativity, Fibreculture, and Senses and Society. His current work spans materiality, data and culture, with a practical focus on creating “generous interfaces” for digital heritage. Mitchell is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra, where he leads the Digital Treasures program in the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research.