Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

From the start, however, it was more than just a way to build on Java. While Fry was at work on his renderer, Reas began developing as a locus of learning and community, creating an active forum where users discuss their projects, share and solve programming problems, and offer ideas for improving Processing itself. Indeed, Processing had the spirit of an art project or a labor of love. As artists, Fry and Reas were keen to give the software as much expressive power as they could; they used it to produce work that felt like art. Soon, people wanted to emulate them. And they could. Processing was open-source and free of charge. Because Fry and Reas were doing this for no particular hope of financial gain, and because they were awfully hard-working and nice guys, its fans couldn’t help loving Processing for its purity.

Since then, Processing has grown up quite a bit. Books have been published on its applications, and I see stunning Processing animations in television commercials and all over the Web. I am fairly confident that the number of people who use it is significant and growing. I doubt that it will overtake Flash, but I think it continues to give it a good run for the money. Because it is open-source, many people are extending Processing in ways that I’m sure surprise Fry and Reas. Mobile editions, JavaScript work-alikes, hardware programming platforms–I’m sure we’ll see it on iPhones eventually. Processing is being faithfully copied by a variety of folks so that it can run on different platforms–a testament to its popularity.

Processing, however, isn’t entirely easy. Perhaps the only thing working against it is that it has a higher bar of entry than other visually oriented systems like Flash. Programming in general eventually gets hard; you have to embrace the mathematics at some point in the game. But there’s nothing like inspiration as a motivator. Just the other day, I had an e-mail conversation with graphics guru Robert Hodgin, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD, we don’t have much mathematics training to speak of, and Roger left without much algorithmic know-how. But he is now extremely skilled with a sophisticated mathematical repertoire, because he has made the leap from pigments and straightedges to numbers and relational symbols. He wanted to learn what at first was hard. In the end, it’s just work. And artists know how to work!

Processing was written and developed by two boys next door who are also visual and computational geniuses. Fry and Reas wrote it for themselves–and also for the world at large, to help everyone share in the rich vocabulary of computational expression. Processing exemplifies my core belief about education today: let the new generation do their thing and just get out of their way. Download it today, and play.

John Maeda is president of the Rhode Island School of Design and the author of The Laws of Simplicity.

3 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Casey Reas/Bitforms Gallery, NYC

Tagged: Computing, Design, Processing

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me