Code Naturally's workbook cover illustrates the limitless possibilities programming provides when students are given the right tools to learn.
Anyone can code
Code Naturally is a small Santa Cruz organization that aims to provide students aged 8-15 with an approachable and easy way to get into programming. We aim to meet students and teachers where they are and create the materials, support, and features necessary to ensure that they can have fun coding and express themselves through a whole new medium.
When it came to designing the cover of our workbook, we wanted to make sure our cover would provide a perspective into what’s possible thanks to the power of programming and when students are given the tools to learn.
How do you illustrate 'computer science'?
The first step to realizing our vision was to figure out how to illustrate an abstract concept like computer science. We've all seen the futuristic, matrix-inspired "computer science" images, but they don't exactly inspire me to code. I was given free reign to exercise my creativity as long as whatever I came up with was enticing and fun but not childish.
I came up with a list of the applications of coding, which can be pretty much anything and everything nowadays. There were some obvious choices, like building complex apps and smart devices, but I wanted to focus on broad applications that would excite and inspire our target audience: students aged 8-15.
After brainstorming some initial sketches and creating an initial mockup, I realized that even though I had a specific vision in mind, it wasn't reflected in the illustration I created. I hadn't done much digital illustration yet, so I felt like I didn't have the technical skills to actualize my ideas. I turned to Behance and Dribbble to find inspiration.
Learning by observing the masters
I found several pieces that resonated with me on Dribbble that helped me boil down in to a couple points the reasons why my design wasn't working:
Too many colors and varying styles cluttered the scene, causing visual overstimulation and a lack of cohesion within the piece.
Even though computer science was instrumental in humans landing on the moon or in the development of video games, programming's significance lies in how the resulting technologies have changed people's lives — simply showing that they exist doesn't communicate much meaning about why computer science is so valuable and exciting.
Randompopsycle uses pops of pink, yellow, and turquoise in Teamwork and Brainstorming to visually connect the salient points of the illustration: people working as a team and the objects, tools, or processes that might be involved in their team workflow. The accent colors indicate that there is an interconnected relationship between these points; tints of purple indicate less important details.
I learned a lot about shading, light, perspective, and color from Magda's Family Time. A base palette of analogous colors comes to life in the varying tints and shades of the analogous hues.
The initial sketch looks pretty similar to the final design, except for the old Windows logo. I figured we wouldn't be able to use it due to copyright restrictions, but it reminded me of my childhood days when I would play pinball on my family's bulky Windows desktop. I ended up swapping it out for a floppy disk.
Armed with new ideas on how to improve my design, I returned to the drawing board. In my new iteration, I tried to illustrate a "cool hangout" space where students are actively engaging with the products of computer science. I incorporated in to my new illustration feedback from Sukh and Alfie (CEO and CTO of Code Naturally, respectively), my team, as well as students at Code Naturally (one student hated the Windows logo). After all stakeholders were on board, it was time to start illustrating!
Coding for the Adventurous Student
A block of code reveals a group of kids hanging out and engaging in different programming technologies: rockets, neural networks, and Pong (which many students code themselves at Code Naturally!). Accent colors inspired by the popular code editor color palette, Monokai Pro, create a visual connection between students and the applications of coding. In the corner, a bookshelf and plant represent the potential for future discoveries that can be discovered and grown with computer science. A floppy disk poster hangs as an homage to the early days of computing, and to remind us of how far we've come since the days of 1MB storage (and hopefully to get a little chuckle from parents).
The early release version of the workbook has been printed and distributed to students at Code Naturally Summer Camp 2019. Once in-school and after-school enrichment programs start in Fall 2019, each student will receive a workbook with this design on it.
Many thanks to Sukh and Alfie, my managers at Code Naturally, for the opportunity to create this workbook cover!