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Processing Fellowship Proposal

UPDATE: Progress on this fellowship can be followed at

About Us

Jess Klein

If you ask about her passions, Jess will draw you a venn diagram with the words community, freedom, and learning, and point to the sweet spot where all three overlap. She is dedicated to connecting people and ideas through new technologies and interactive experiences.

Jess currently works at Bocoup as an Open Web Designer and previously was at the Mozilla Foundation, where she served as Creative Lead. A Rockaway Beach native, Jess co-founded Rockaway Help in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to empower the community to find solutions for emergency response, preparedness and rebuilding through hyperlocal open news and the development of innovative community-designed technologies. She was named a White House Champion of Change for her civic hacktivism.

Atul Varma

Atul enjoys building bridges of understanding between humans and machines. He has written illuminating software that's been used as the centerpiece of TED Talks, in maker events around the world, and by individuals who are just trying to have a less frustrating time using their computer. But his favorite moments are very personal: understanding where another person is coming from, constructing a metaphor they can relate to, and using it to explain technology in a way that liberates, excites, and empowers.

Atul previously worked at the Mozilla Foundation as a Lead Developer and currently freelances on a variety of open governance and education-related projects.

Introduction and Timeline

We're interested in making p5.js the most helpful JavaScript library in the world by improving its friendly error system. Specifically, we'd like to approach the work outlined in issue #971 through the lens of human-centered design.

Over the course of the three-month fellowship, we'd like to spend the first month doing some research and prototyping:

  • Conducting interviews with teachers, students, and other users of p5.js to generate personas, journey maps, and wireframes to identify pain points and ideate on what an ideal error experience might be.
  • Observing the most common errors beginners encounter through teaching p5 ourselves (and potentially observing others teach p5), and using this insight to devise new ways of making the library even more helpful. For example, in pull request #1130 Atul added a helpful error message when users used global APIs like color() at top-level code, after being confused by it himself and noticing others posting about it on the Processing forum.
  • Exploring the error feedback of other friendly systems like Processing 3, Ruby 2.3, Inform 7, and even jokes to gain further insight on potential solutions.
  • Prototyping innovative ways to make the friendly error system feel more like interactive documentation, and less like an intimidating browser console. This may include, but not be limited to, the inclusion of links to existing documentation and guides on; a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to individuals new to coding and/or Web programming in particular; and more.
  • Reading through existing issues related to the friendly error system and proposing a roadmap/plan of attack.

The second and third months of our work would involve implementation and iteration:

  • Fixing all the current friendly error system issues.
  • Productionalizing compelling prototypes to ensure that they handle all edge cases and work properly 100% of the time.
  • Using teaching as a way to "user test" the friendly error system itself, and validate that the solutions devised for the error system are actually helpful. Further exploration may be done to add additional ways of getting feedback on our solutions, e.g. a mechanism for users who encountered errors to indicate whether particular friendly error system messages were helpful or not.

During this time, work would be done to ensure that the implementation follows best practices so that it can be easily understood, maintained, and extended by the Processing community:

  • Documenting the design work and requesting feedback from the Processing community through blog posts and github issues.
  • Developing a robust test suite to ensure that the friendly error system never breaks.
  • Documenting the friendly error system API so that libraries which build upon p5, like p5.speech, can easily provide their own friendly errors.
  • Potentially decoupling parts of the friendly error system from p5 itself, so that other JS libraries and open-source projects can easily leverage its functionality too.
  • Ensuring that the friendly error system works well with screen readers, so that seeing-impaired users can benefit from it.
  • Potentially devising a way to internationalize the friendly error system so that it's helpful to beginners who may not know English.

Atul's current understanding of the internal workings of the p5.js library, developed through the past few months of contributions, will allow us to hit the ground running.

In addition, we believe we're particularly qualified for this work due to our experience developing beginner-friendly software, as well as our teaching experience.

Beginner-Friendly Software Experience

In general, we've both always been excited about building software that is particularly approachable for users who don't have a traditional technical background. Our favorite example of this is Hackasaurus, a tool we designed and developed during our time at Mozilla that makes it easy for non-technical people to peek under the hood of a web page, understand how it works, and tinker with it.

Other beginner-friendly software projects that we've worked on includes:

  • Hack the Firefox Home Page, an experience we designed and prototyped that introduces Firefox users to the basics of CSS by inviting them to "hack" Firefox's default home page.
  •, a tool we created to introduce beginners to HTML and CSS through the creation of love bomb "e-cards".
  • Data Voyager, a tool Jess worked on at Bocoup in collaboration with the Knight Foundation and the Interactive Data Lab at the University of Washington to help journalists new to data exploration learn about the potential of a dataset through visualization recommendations.
  • Minicade, a tool Atul created with Chloe Varelidi at Mozilla and Eyebeam for making microgames that allows designers to "level up" from building games using a Blockly-based drag-and-drop UI to coding in JavaScript.
  • Slowparse, an i18n-friendly HTML/CSS parser focused on providing helpful error feedback that has historically been used by Mozilla Thimble and Khan Academy.
  • SlowmoJS, a tool for understanding how JavaScript is evaluated by leveraging Edward Tufte’s concept of “adjacent multiples”.
  • Collusion, a tool for helping non-technical users understand who is tracking them as they browse the web.
  • css-selector-game, a simple mobile-friendly tutorial/game that teaches beginners about CSS selectors.
  • Navigator Badge Challenge, an interactive assessment we created to help learners gauge their Web literacy skills.
  • Security Adventure, an interactive tutorial that attempts to make learning about web security more accessible by having programmers exploit and then fix security holes in a simple NodeJS-based web application.

Teaching Experience

Atul has always been excited about teaching and currently volunteers at Brooklyn International High School, teaching ESL freshmen and sophomores about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript through ScriptEd. He has also already scheduled a professional development workshop with Global Kids to teach them p5 later this month, and will be doing the same for his colleagues at GovLab as well. He's also informally mentored friends and coworkers throughout his life.

Jess is constantly teaching and was on the founding team of the Hive NYC Learning Network, where she taught educators and youth via workshops, online curriculum and hackjams about remixing and innovating using technology. In the Rockaways, she also led public events to teach Web literacy to the hurricane-affected community.

In general we gain some of our best insights on user experience by observing others use products, so when it comes to p5.js, we feel that teaching and helping beginners ourselves is of core importance.

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