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  • Writer's pictureRob George

Week 9 Research: Art and the API

Updated: Dec 4, 2020


This week I did some research on the art of API. I read an article by Jer Thorp from titled Art and the API. API answers the question "how can art reside within the relationship between people and software?"

What Is API?

API is an abbreviation for Application Programming Interface. It is a term that is used to describe all of the software operating inside of a computer. Thorp mentions that the important part of this term is "interface" and how it acts "as a bridge which allows one computer program to talk to another computer program" to expose data to the user. It is used for many purposes but is well known to be used by large companies for their customers and internal uses. I liked Thorp's comparison of API to a mail system. He says a large company can have a mail room that receives mail from the outside world and have a bunch of internal machinery that sorts that information to share with the rest of the internal parts of the company. API works the same way with computers by using the structure of software to share data through applications. An example would be when you use social media, email, or share posts through different apps. API is the reason you can do that.

A Common Tool For Media Artists

API allows artists to create "permanent links" between applications that can be updated as the the content and data on the applications update. It can be used for conceptual designs that help expose the data that is not commonly viewed by the public.

Out of Site, Out of Mind (2013)

By Pitch Interactive

Jer Thorp mentions this project which uses API to update it's information on drone strikes and the effects they cause.

Pitch Interactive is a data visualization team that creates interactive interfaces for major companies and events. They describe their 2013 interface project "Out of Site, Out of Mind" as;

"A web based narrative visualization documenting every drone strike carried out in Pakistan. Out of Sight, Out of Mind was inspired by the inadequacies of other attempts to report the effects of an invisible technological war. Using data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism we visualized every known attack by the US and Coalition military since 2004 by date, location and number of fatalities. The visualization builds itself as each attack generates the timeline across the screen.

The viewer can dig deeper by hovering or clicking in to reveal specific details about each attack on the horizontal timeline. The 'Victims' tab provides an alternate view showing the aggregated number of victims by month. In both views the data produces patterns that urge viewers to reflect on realities hidden by the numbers."

(Video 1 of me using the program)

(Video 2 of me using the program)

I wanted to share these videos of the work because I didn't think images would do it justice. It is an interactive data visualization and I love how Pitch Interactive visually showed how awful these drone strikes were. (Probably shouldn't use "love, awful, and drone strikes" in the same sentence, but I'm talking about the design concept, not the topic.) It seems they are no longer updating the drone strikes as this ends with the last recorded strike on September 1st 2015, but what they did with this data is so simple, clean, and straight to the point. Their intent was not to make people take sides on the topic but to allow the public to establish their own opinion about the drone strikes.

I really enjoyed the animations and layout. I feel the movement of the lines which represent the strikes are very effective and the animation when switching between pages is so pleasing to watch. I also think using human figures as the dots in the graph and color coding them based on type found from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was a clever way to get people thinking about just how many people died in these drone strikes.

Below are a few resources found to further understand what API is and how it is used by users and developers.

Resources For Further Study of API

API design is UI design — a way to collaborative handoff. By Tridip Thrizu What is API design?

What is an API? In English, please. By Petr Gazarov

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