Author's note There is no correct order for this essay. The reader can hack the essay into many different sequences that are all correct.
Computer hacking may bring to mind images of laptop-armed nerds crippling computer networks. Double-click, boom. The hackers sit in a cluttered and dark warehouse, terminal screens up with bright green typography. Stolen credit-card numbers, of course. In the classic movie Wargames (1984), a young Matthew Broderick tries to change his high-school grades and accidentally raises the DEFCON Level, nearly starting World War III!
The rise of D.I.Y. and "life hacking" have made the term hacking no longer so apocalyptic. Hacking now refers simply to using something in a way that it wasn't designed to be used. It's problem solving, exploring and making by unconventional means. Hacks inspire creativity by messing with tools, learning new skills and gaining under-the-hood insider tips.
Hacks are often low tech. Drilling holes into the body of a Holga, a cheap plastic lens camera, can add visual interest to photographs by allowing light leaks to slowly burn onto images. Screen printing can be simplified with a hack involving a freezer paper stencil that can allow you to skip the often cost prohibitive photo-exposing stage. Grocery store discount cards can be hacked into smaller pieces, taking up less space in your wallet.
On the computer, a basic text editor can be used to rearrange jpeg encoding resulting in a visual spasm, often filled with glitchy bursts of psychedelic colors, with remnants of your original image scattered about. Open source software has allowed artists and designers to modify code, tailoring it to their own needs. For example, the Processing programming language has been designed specifically for visual artists. Processing scripts are called "sketches," and are designed to be hacked, tweaked, and shared online. Sketches are simple math calculations that can be altered therefore affecting the image that it's creating. Swapping in an 8 for a 2 in the code could change a set of straight lines into a multicolored rubberband ball of lines.
In graphic design, hacking can be used to create surprising new form. Graphic design hacking embraces the unknown. Like a dice roll, many of the outcomes are left to chance. Hacking is not always about the finished piece, but about the creative process. It's tossing your camera up in the air with the shutter open, photocopying something in motion, pressing command+v on a public computer or tweaking code to produce chance visuals. Hacks are lo tech, hi tech, or a mash-up between the two.
Graphic designers are in a prime spot to incorporate hacking into their work and process. At any given moment there is a host of tools, materials and inspiration all around us.