Art ❤ Code
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Art ❤ Code

Building Software That Puts Ethics and Accessibility First

Meet Joey Lee, creative technologist

Without using your job title, what do you do?

I make maps: geographic and otherwise. These days, I “map” knowledge and concepts to students at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

I also create tools that help people to explore the world and interact with it on the web and try to “map” blank spots in our knowledge around topics mostly related to maps, the weather and climate.

Hubcap map vizualization
Who wants to be a self-driving car? Project
Who Wants to be a Self-driving Car? project

Which project that matters the most to you and why?

Over the last year and a half I’ve been leading the development of a project called ml5.js.

I’m really excited to continue developing ml5.js and for it to become a model for building software in a way that puts ethics and accessibility first.

ml5.js
ml5.js, an open source software for accessible machine learning

Where do you do your best work?

The best thing is getting into a groove working on anything with people who have different skills and backgrounds.

I’d never really known the joys of collaborative work until I met Benedikt Groß back in 2012. Benedikt and I worked on a number of projects like the Big Atlas of LA Pools and Aerial Bold.

Aerial Bold
Aerial Bold, the first map and typeface of the earth with satellite imagery

What advice would you give to a beginner interested in your field?

There’s no problem with being happy to do tasks that others give you but depending on your personality, you may also be driven to explore your own ideas or push forward your own initiatives. Being able to clearly define and scope a project idea, define what your objectives and goals are, and how you plan to accomplish that idea makes the difference between being a “junior” vs. “senior” XYZ role.

How do you deal with artist block?

I find the the practice of “thinking through making” is helpful to generate lots of ideas (saturate and diverge) and provide perspective on what directions to go next (group and converge).

Radio garden
Explore live radio by rotating the globe

Something cool on the internet you wish more people knew about?

Radio.garden has been a treat to tune in to different places from afar.

I love simple but thoughtful lists of things like Mindy Seu’s list of Artist Residencies and Jeremy Singer Vine’s list of datasets on Data is Plural. Well written tutorials like those by Tania Rascia are crucial for my work.

What’s in your toolbox?

Vue.js and Vuex (reactive front-end user interfaces), Parcel.js (bundling code), p5.js, d3.js, MapboxGL.js and Leaflet.js (libraries for web mapping), Turf.js (geospatial analysis), Netlify (to publish projects to the web), Sketch/Figma and Notion for organizing ideas.

I really love JavaScript and the general philosophy of tools that run the browser. The browser is such a versatile environment for creating things that can be easily shared and experienced by lots of people.

What is one thing you want more of this year?

The radical kind of kindness that you see in people like Fred Rodgers from Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood: 1) to extend unwavering kindness to others and 2) to be able to make time to provide that kindness to others.

Along a spectrum of art <-> code, where are you?

I think art is about having a question and code is about having a means of asking that question. I see art as the inspiration that begins a line of inquiry and the code as the thing that helps resolve that inquiry. I’d say it’s “art first, code second.”

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