Why I still care about NodeBox

john's Avatar


02 Sep, 2019 11:51 PM

Over the course of my long career I have been both a coder and a designer. My title now is design architect. Always I have been an architect of the invisible. To do my work I have penetrated to the heart of vast and intricate systems which no one can actually see, and created solutions built on bones which must always hide beneath the skin they support - beautiful bones that no one but me can fully appreciate. This is an experience every coder knows.

Software is ephemeral - like building sand castles - so everything I make is sooner or later washed away. But at least sand castles are seen by someone before they go.

What I love about Nodebox is that I can see it. I can see my bones. I can touch them and drag them, zoom in and out, arrange them as one would arrange flowers in a vase. Coding in Nodebox is more play than work. I sit in my sandbox and play, fitting my bones together until they form a viable skeleton.

Once everything comes together and starts to work I then spend more time tidying up, improving not just the function of my algorithms but their form. I rearrange the nodes and edges to bring out their natural symmetry, to balance them, using negative space to make internal boundaries more distinct and easier to see.

This is not about efficiency. This is about harmony, about simplicity, about understanding. It is contemplative, almost a form of meditation. At its best, it is about beauty.

Having used this tool every day for years now I am well aware of its limitations. NodeBox is just a glimmer of what it could be. The current form of a NodeBox network, that tree of tributaries which flow and gather down a screen, only hints at the true shape of the code. The vital distinction between taking things one a time (value) and taking them all at once (list) is almost entirely hidden. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division look too much alike; equations tangle like hairballs, hiding their true nature.

The UI allows rich interactions for creators - a true zoomable user interface with scrubbable parameters and immediate response to change. But we cannot yet provide those same interactions for our audience. NodeBox is already an amazing tool for making static visualizations - think what would be possible if it could export interactive visualizations as well!

There is also still too much friction in the user interface, small annoyances that distract from the creative impulse, things that could be made even easier to do. And there are bugs, long known, still waiting to be swatted. NodeBox is relatively easy but not yet effortless.

I want to empower design. I want to make coding intuitive so that more designers can code. I want to make that code visible so that more people can appreciate its beauty. I want to make art with code and I want the code itself to be seen as art.

I am not sure how far we could push NodeBox, how far it could carry us to this goal. But it is already a good start - the best I’ve found. With just a little work it could be much, much better.

I would like to hear from others in this community - artists as well as coders. What do YOU like about NodeBox? What do you use it for? How could we make it better?

Any open source project is only as alive as the people who use it. NodeBox is at a crossroads. It will either find new energy and direction, or it will fade away.

The path to renewal begins with conversation. Why do YOU still care about NodeBox?


  1. 1 Posted by rougeux on 03 Sep, 2019 01:35 AM

    rougeux's Avatar

    Great topic. I care a great deal about NodeBox. It's been an integral part of many projects I've completed over the years. Without it, I don't think I'd be where I am today. It opens the doors for me as a designer who isn't as proficient with coding as others. Being able to see my thoughts come to life without getting bogged down by coding libraries or compatibility has allowed me to create more than I ever imagined and with ease that makes it a joy to use.

    The UI does have its quirks (clicking + dragging) and I long for the day when they get fixed and new features (gradients, blending modes, etc.) are added but I'll continue to use it often until then or even if it doesn't happen.

    I do hope that NodeBox continues to flourish and doesn't fade away. I've recommended it to everyone who's asked about my "go-to" tools for experimenting with art and data visualization.

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