This glossary compiles all the definitions included in all issues of Back Office.
Term derived from English verb “to afford” (to manage, to allow). Imported from behavioral psychology, its usage within the field of design and human-machine interfaces refers to the ability of a symbolic representation (icon, button or function name) to suggest the action it performs.
A linear sequence of homogenous instructions that performs operations that transform input data into an expected output. Algorithms must be translated into computing language to be understood by machines.
Born from signal processing schemes, this term is used to describe algorithms designed to accurately display vector graphics (typefaces, drawing) on the array of pixels of current screens.
Application Programming Interface: APIs are intended to facilitate a programmer’s work by providing a set of functions, protocols and tools for building or developing software (software applications, websites, etc.).
An application (“app”) or application software is a type of software that enables its users to do specific tasks (text writing, music composition, Web browsing, etc.
A set of theories and techniques used to produce machines capable of simulating or realizing capacities requiring human intelligence (perception, memory, emotion, critical thinking, etc.). The term was introduced in the article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” published in 1950 by Alan Turing.
A set of theories and techniques used to produce machines capable of simulating or realizing capacities requiring human intelligence (perception, memory, emotion, critical thinking, etc.). The term was introduced in the article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” published in 1950 by Alan Turing.
ASCII is the acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. This standard emerged in the 1960s in order to harmonize character encoding. Very limited, it only specifies 95 characters (128 codes on 7 bits), notably excluding languages with accented characters.
An assembler language is, in the computer science field, a low-level programming language whose instructions remain readable by a human being (contrary to binary code for instance). This type of programming language is very close to machine hardware architecture and allows direct interactions with computer resources. Assembler languages are often used for developing programs that require high computing performance.
A digital resource (image, model, process, set of functions, etc.) that can be reused, or whose application can be put into widespread use.
Augmented reality (AR) is the set of techniques that enables the real-time embedding of virtual elements in a filmed or live environment, generally using mobile devices or immersive headsets.
A method of representation in which spatial dimensions are projected along three straight oriented lines while preserving their linear proportions. This type of projection preserves the parallels, unlike a perspective projection, in which the lines converge towards a vanishing point.
A back end is a technical infrastructure, usually secured with a password, used to administer a client interface (front end).
Bézier curves are mathematical curves that can be defined by a set of polynomial equations. Discovered by French automotive engineer Pierre Bézier in 1962, it is now the main model for vector drawing, typographic character description or CAD (Computer-Aided Design).
Big data refers to data sets that have become so voluminous that they exceed the storage, analysis or visualization capabilities of conventional computing tools. This term appeared in the mid-2000s following the increase of physical sensors and website tracking tools.
The English term “bitmap” originally stood for an array containing binary data (yes/no). This structure was mainly used in the early 1970s to store and describe the very first raster graphics i.e. a set of discrete points (pixels) uniformly distributed over two dimensions, in the manner of a canvas. Each pixel contains information related to its grey or color value, depending on the image format. In the field of graphic design, a bitmap image refers to a raster image whose pixels can only take two (binary) values: black or white.
This word, derived from “robot,” most often refers to a stand-alone software using algorithms designed to mimic the behavior of a human user (i.e. chatbots, interactive agents used for online chats).
CD-ROM stands for “Compact Disc Read Only Memory,” and refers to an optical disc used for the storage of digital data. This Media, which was developed by Philips and its compact disc, was notably used from the mid-1990s for the distribution of editorial content, video games (Sony Playstation) or computer data and software.
Digital images that can be produced by several types of programs: 3-D rendering software (see Gouraud shading), generative neural-network, data visualization, raster image processing, etc.
Coming from the early centralized computer systems and in particular from mainframes and Unix terminals, command line interfaces represent a paradigm in which the user only interacts with the machine by typing text according to a pre-established and often automatable syntax (shell).
Cloud computing means the use of computing resources on distant machines (servers) that are, most of the time, for rent or provided in exchange for pay-per-use charges.
A CMS (Content Management System) is a program designed to enter and read data for a website. It is often deployed on a host server and allows administrators to enter content through a private interface (back end). Most of the time, data is stored in a database and “served” to the client’s browser.
A codex is a form of book composed of a set of pages bound together. It differs from books made up of a continuous roll (volumen or rotulus) which it gradually replaced as of the 1st century AD.
A compiler is a program that turns source code written in a programming language, readable by a human being, into binary code that can be executed (read) by a machine.
Compositing is a set of digital techniques, generally used for film post-production, which allows several images or media to be mixed into one shot or one item.
The computability of a mathematical function defines its ability to be calculated by a Turing machine. A computable function can thus be translated into a computer program, executable by any compatible system.
Computer science is the theoretical and practical study of the design and use of computers. It is the scientific approach to the computation and the systematic study of the procedures that underlie the acquisition, representation, processing, storage, and communication of data.
Cascading Style Sheets is a style sheet language used to describe the layout of a Web document (usually a webpage).
CSS Print is a set of instructions written in the CSS language used to manage the printed aspects of a webpage, and making it possible to use Web techniques as a multi-support publication and layout environment.
The word cyberculture appeared in the 1990s. It’s an effort to merge the concepts of cybernetics (scientific study of control), cyberpunk (dystopian sci-fi) and cyberspace (design, browsing and relationship methods allowed by digital technologies). Cyberculture implies both a set of cultural productions and a new approach to culture.
Cybernetics (from the Greek kubernêtês: pilot, governor) is a term proposed in 1947 by mathematician Norbert Wiener to define a science concerning the control of natural or artificial systems, based on computers. It incorporates notions such as balance (and entropy), systems (piloted), black box, feedback and information (signal theory, input/output relationships).
Data is an elementary description of a reality that can be evaluated according to a reference system. This may include, for example, the result of an observation or a measurement. Raw data generally needs to be analyzed and organized in order to derive meaning and therefore information.
A set of digital data associated with a particular observation, the values of which are expressed in a coherent system.
In computer science, a database is a program for storing and accessing data, usually through a dedicated language such as SQL. There are several types of database structures: navigational (data is organized according to a network of fixed links that can be read one by one), hierarchical (data is organized according to a pyramid scheme and can be read from its “master” occurrence), relational (data is organized according to a table model with several previously defined columns whose inner values or whole set can be used to sort the results of a query) or “NoSQL” (data is stored in buckets without any defined structure and is indexed with a unique identifier.)
Deep learning refers to machine learning techniques based on previously defined large data sets that are designed to “train” algorithms, i.e. to enable them to define their own analysis parameters. Since the 2000s, the development of these methods has led to significant advances in the field of signal processing, including facial recognition, speech recognition, computer vision and automatic language processing.
Conceptualized with the release of the Xerox Star computer in 1981, the desktop metaphor is a set of items in a virtual graphic interface which depict, through icons, the typical objects of a desktop (trash, folders, files etc.). These icons can represent actions executed by the OS (delete, copy, paste, etc.) as well as stored data (files).
Appeared in the 1980s; Desktop Publishing (or DTP) refers to the activity of designing printed documents on a personal computer with dedicated software (including page layout, type-setting, photo editing, etc.)
In the field of computer science, the word digital refers to a virtual object (number, text, image, data, program, etc.) encoded as a binary number, namely a series of bits in 0 or 1 state. More generally, this term is used to define the set of contents and activities related to computer use.
A DOM or Document Object Model is the calculated structure of a webpage. Web browsers generally include a DOM Inspector, which is a development tool used to observe and edit the DOM during page consultation.
A digital book is a book published and distributed as a digital file to be read on a screen. Publishers and distribution platforms use various competing formats, free (ePub, HTML, plain text) or proprietary (PDF, AZW), which can integrate digital rights management systems (DRM) that restrict their circulation.
E-paper refers to a digital display technology intended to imitate the appearance of a printed piece of paper. Unlike conventional backlit displays, e-paper reflects the ambient light, guaranteeing optimum readibility along with very low power consumption.
An e-reader is an electronic mobile device designed for reading and storing e-books that uses an e-paper display to reduce eye strain. The most notable example is the Kindle (2007), an e-reader launched by Amazon that interfaces directly with a platform for selling proprietary format e-books distributed by the same publisher.
In animation, an easing function (acceleration curve) describes the progression of a parameter over time. A linear easing applied to a position gives a uniform movement at a constant speed, while a gradual easing is used to generate an acceleration effect.
In computer science, an emulator refers to software intended to replace a hardware component of a machine or a complete machine. Mainly used for video games or software development, this type of program aims to imitate the same behavior as the hardware target (game console, device or micro-architecture).
Encoding is the process of transcribing a text message or data according to specific conventions. Unicode (1987) is, for example, a standardized character encoding system that assigns a unique numerical identifier to each glyph to ensure that it is correctly displayed regardless of the computer platform or software used.
The EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) file format describes a type of document that can embed PostScript files which describe printed documents. It is suitable for vector images and is especially used in Illustrator.
ePub (2007) is the acronym for “electronic publication.” It is an open and standardized e-book format based on Web languages (HTML and CSS). Unlike PDF, ePub encodes the text as a flow and allows each user to adjust most reading options. Although readable by several devices (e-readers, smartphones, tablets, personal computers), it can neither integrate rich interactions nor singular layouts to be displayed seamlessly.
An action produced in return for an effect on the device that gave rise to it. In the case of human-machine interfaces, interactions are governed by feedback allowing, for example, a user to obtaining confirmation that an input has been carried out by the machine.
The proprietary Flash technology enables the enhancement of webpages with interactive or animated items, created in the eponymous software. It was released in 1996, at a time when standard Web languages only allowed basic interactions. Displaying Flash objects (SWF) in a Web browser requires the installation of the Flash Player plug-in. This technology has been criticized for causing security and performance issues therefore it is not supported by the majority of mobile devices and is progressively disappearing from desktop Web browsers.
“Flat design” refers to a prescriptive esthetic paradigm adopted by Microsoft (ModernUI), Google (Material Design) or Apple since the 2010s. It combines graphical user interfaces made of blocks of bright colors, abstract shapes and sans-serif typefaces. It is opposed to skeuomorph interfaces, namely the digital simulation of physical items.
The fold is an imaginary demarcation that marks the visible part of a website before the user scrolls the page. The term is derived from daily news- papers, referring to the visible part of a newspaper folded in two.
@font-face is a CSS rule that enables the integration of custom fonts for texts on webpages. Although it has been endorsed by the W3C since 1998, it was not until the early 2010s that these rules were implemented on most Web browsers.
In computer science, a fork is a new software derived from the source code of an existing software, often released under free license.
A free license is an agreement which grants the following four freedoms to the user: free use; ability to study how it works; ability to edit and redistribute it to other users, including for commercial purposes. The most famous free license is the GPL license.
Free software allows, in both technical and legal terms, its user to run, study, edit and redistribute it, which implies an open-source code. Contrary to proprietary software whose source code is locked, free software promotes the values of sharing and freedom.
In computer science, a function (or procedure) is a piece (object) of a program designed to execute a specific operation and that can be used ad hoc (routine).
G-Code is a programming language from the 1960s that is used to define sequences of geometrical or side instructions for driving CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines.
GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is a type of raster image file that is commonly used on the Web. Released in 1987, the same file can encapsulate one or more images (then played as animations) whose colors are defined by a palette of 256 shades, including a transparent one (which allows for trimming).
Launched in 2008, GitHub is a source code hosting and management platform that is based on the Git version control protocol and on open source collaborative working methods.
Initiated by Richard Stallman in 1983, GNU (“GNU’s not Unix”) is a free operating system that uses the concepts and the compatibility of Unix, a proprietary OS originally developed in 1969 at Bell Labs for mainframe systems. The merging of GNU with the Linux kernel created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 gave birth to GNU/Linux, the most used free OS.
Invented by Henri Gouraud in 1971, this 3-D rendering method consists of interpolating pixel luminosity according to the orientation of the polygon being rendered. When applied to each vertex of the mesh, this shading is more realistic than flat shading, and consequently softens angles.
Finalized in 1989 by Richard Stallman, the GPL (GNU General Public License, GNU-GPL) license’s fundamental goal is to establish the legal terms of distribution of GNU and free software. The terms and conditions of GPL allow anyone to edit, study and redistribute a GPL-licensed project, including under a derived form.
Grafitti is a handwriting recognition software developed by the Palm company at the beginning of the 1990s that was used in personal digital assistant devices (PDAs).
Invented at the end of the 1960s by the team of American computer scientist Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute, and developed at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in the mid-1970s, a graphical user interface (GUI) is a type of interface that allows a user to interact with digital objects through icons, menus and texts represented on a screen (e.g. WIMP). Graphical user interfaces were conceived with the ambition of democratizing access to computers by removing the complexity of the command-line interfaces that were prevalent at the time.
A combination of the terms “hack” and “marathon,” a hackathon refers to a series of events at which volunteering developers gather for a short period of time in order to carry out specific projects.
A hacker is someone who is able to understand and edit locked computing systems. By extension and contrary to the derogative image of the pirate, it is possible to see in the hacker’s skills and curiosity a contribution to the search for the common good and individual emancipation.
Hardware includes all the physical and tangible components of a computer. It is opposed to the software of the machine that qualifies the instructions and data stored or executed by the hardware. This distinction, established by mathematician John von Neumann in 1955 based on Alan Turing’s work, has since been used as a model for computer design.
Display device used to provide additional data to increase visual perception (augmented reality) or to simulate an imaginary environment (virtual reality). This type of headset can feature one or two screens at eye level, as well as position sensors to synchronize the projected image with the user’s movements.
Hinting (rendering optimization) consists of a series of instructions and reference positions that aim to improve the matrix display (pixels) of vector glyph contours.
HP-GL (Hewlett-Packard Graphics Language) is a programming language developed at the end of the 1970s designed to drive tracing plotters. It is based on a series of instructions representing machine commands (raise or lower pencil for instance) and geometric coordinates.
HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is a data description language which is structured with markup and designed to describe the content of webpages. It is one of the three inventions, along with HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) and URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that are the foundations of the Web.
This field of research emerged with the rise of electrical, and later, electronic machines. Its aim is to improve the ways in which information is used and exchanged between technical devices and their human users (through graphical user interfaces, physical buttons, etc.).
Hybrid publications refers to editorial objects whose Media or design processes involve a mix of physical and digital technologies (generative books, web2print, multi-channel publishing, etc.)
Hyperlinks were conceived by computer scientist Ted Nelson in 1965. They are widely used since the democratization of the Web. They refer a singular textual element to one or several associated documents in the same hypertext system.
Hypermedia is an extension of the concepts of hypertext to other types of documents, including visual, audio, animated or interactive Media.
Theorized in 1963 by Ted Nelson as part of the Xanadu project, hypertext is text with references (hyperlinks) pointing to other texts. This paradigm, which breaks with the linear experience of conventional reading, is the basis of software like Hypercard or systems such as the Web.
Small image that symbolizes a function, data or program within a GUI (see Affordance and Graphical User
In a digital context, immersion refers to a set of strategies intended to simulate a tangible environment, for example through the use of virtual reality and head-mounted displays (HMD).
Element of knowledge, which may be formalized through norms to be retained, processed or communicated. In an etymological sense, information is what shapes the mind. It comes from the Latin verb informare, which means “shape, fashion, describe.”
Inkscape is a vector drawing software released under free license (GPL License) whose first version dates back to 2003. It offers a credible alternative to Illustrator, a proprietary software from Adobe.
An interface acts as a link between two objects, allowing them to interact according to a set of defined rules. In the field of digital technology, this word could refer to user interfaces that allow users to interact with computers (by using visual representations of virtual objects for instance, see graphical user interface), communication protocols between software and hardware devices (drivers) or between softwares (see API).
The Internet is a global computer network which is distributed, namely without a central hub. Data is transferred from machine to machine using a series of standard protocols which provide the platform for several services, such as e-mail, peer-to-peer file transfer (BitTorrent) or the Web. It superceded the ARPAnet network created in 1972 which was mainly used by universities and governmental agencies.
Interoperability defines the ability of a system or program to provide and accept services or resources from other environments. Beyond compatibility that only characterizes its possible functioning, this notion encompasses more broadly the diffusion of information necessary for the interface between distinct objects.
Object-oriented programming language created in 1995 by Sun Microsystems for software development. A Java program can easily be transferred from one operating system to another without dedicated compilation, thanks to a virtual machine that directly executes the code.
Object-oriented programming language created in 1995 by Brendan Eich. Mainly used to add interactivity to webpages, today it has broader applications, in particular with Node.js, a local runtime environment.
Keying is a visual effect used in video and cinema that consists in the compositing of several shots into a single piece of footage. Usually implemented in post-production, it consists of superimposing transparent shots (matte keying) or shots that are trimmed according to a specific color, usually blue-green (chroma keying).
Software libraries are pre-established sets of functions designed to extend the possibilities of a programming language.
Lingo is a proprietary scripting language used to produce interactive applications in Macromedia Director. Initially derived from the BASIC and HyperTalk languages (used within the HyperCard software), it was notably used for the production of interactive CD-ROMs in the mid-1990s.
Linux (GNU/Linux) is an operating system, like Windows and macOS. It is released under free license (GPL) and is the result of the merging of the GNU OS (developed by Richard Stallman in 1983) with the Linux kernel (created by Linus Torvald in 1991). GNU/Linux is the most emblematic software of hacker culture.
Unlike the frozen blocks of a traditional typographic printing process, the term “liquid” refers to digital compositions whose layout readjusts according to the possible variations in size (dimensions of the sheet of paper or web browser window). The text then behaves as a flow from column to column.
Machine learning refers to a set of mechanisms designed to adjust the procedures of a program based on the identification of statistical correlations from previous analyses. This type of metod can effectively solve complex problems for conventional algorithms. They are used in particular for pattern recognition, search engine development or financial analysis.
A mainframe computer is a high-power computer dedicated to centralized data processing. Users of mainframes interact with the computer through terminals, as opposed to a network of connected personal computers. Each terminal acts as an interface for sending commands and displaying results. This type of architecture, mainly used in the 1970s, is still running in some large companies (banks) and administrative entities.
Markdown is a markup language created in 2004 by American developer John Gruber. Its purpose is to provide a syntax that is easy to read and write to facilitate text formatting.
Markup languages are programming languages used for structuring, describing and enriching textual data. They are characterized by the inclusion of tags (sequences of predetermined glyphs) in the text flow in accordance with a specific syntax.
The word media refers to a means of transmission that enables communication, whether directly (language, writing, etc.) or through technical processes (radio, TV, the Web, etc., this is referred to as “mass media”). According to the media theoretician Friedrich Kittler, “all technical media either stores, transmits, or processes signals and […] the computer (in theory since 1936, in practice since the Second World War) is the only medium that combines these three functions—storage, transmission, and processing—[all] fully automated.”
Metadata is data used to define or describe other data. The shooting date of a digital photograph is, for example, an element of the metadata of the latter.
The concept of metamedium, conceived in 1977 by American computer scientist Alan Kay (then at Xerox PARC) posits the idea that the resources of a computer can potentially be used to simulate and mix any media (image, text, sound, video, etc.) and create new ones.
The MIT Media Lab was created in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is dedicated to research projects regarding design, interaction and technology. Many famous projects have been launched at the Media Lab, like Wired magazine, Processing software or the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. Major figures of computer science and design like Neil Gershenfeld, Joi Ito, John Maeda, Marvin Misky and Ethan Zuckerman worked at the Media Lab.
According to Microsoft, mixed reality (XR, cross reality) reflects a paradigm of experience that encompasses the user’s interactions with real or virtual objects in an immersive environment in a continuum ranging from augmented reality to virtual reality.
Morphing covers all interpolation techniques, automated or not, that transform one shape into another (line, face, etc.) in a continuous way.
Developed by Bob Goldstein (USA) in 1966 and taken up in France since 1978 by François Billetdoux, the word multimedia is used to characterize works that combine several media: image, audio, film, video and other interactive contents. Today, its meaning has expanded to include the productions and objects relative to digital technologies.
Multiple Master is an extension of the Type 1 font format that combines several versions of glyphs called “masters,” i. e. “original” styles. These files allow the user or type designer to continuously interpolate these styles using one or more axes (weight, proportions, optical size, etc.). One of the first fonts using this technology was Myriad (Robert Slimbach and Carol Twombly), designed for Apple in 1992. Multiple Master has been gradually replaced by the evolution of the OpenType format (1.8, variable fonts).
Coined in the 1950s, the word “nerd” was initially a derogative term to qualify a person who is socially inept and fervently devoted to intellectual or scientific subjects. The synonymous term "geek" is more recent, and is associated with people involved in computer science and/or technology.
Netscape Navigator (1994) was one of the first Web browsers. It dominated the market in the mid-1990s and declined under the competition from Internet Explorer, launched by Microsoft in 1995. Netscape was available on Windows, Linux and Mac OS platforms. Although its development stopped in 2008, Netscape is the origin of the free Mozilla Firefox (2002) browser, still under development.
In the field of artificial intelligence, an artificial neural network is a paradigm based upon the way a human brain functions, and is composed of artificial neurons or nodes. Neural networks were first developed after the Second World War, and this approach was taken up again in the early 2010s. It is now the core of media generation services (images, texts, etc.) such as Midjourney or ChatGPT (2022).
Object-oriented programming is a computer programming paradigm using base items named objects (classes) that embed their own internal structure, data and set of methods which define their own behavior and possible interactions with the rest of the program. Conceived in the 1960s, this type of language was developed in the early 1970s at Xerox PARC (with the notable contribution of the American computer scientist Alan Kay who played a large part in the creation of Smalltalk, one of the first object-oriented languages). Today, most programming languages use this paradigm (C++, Java, Python, Objective-C, PHP, etc.)
Optical Character Recognition refers to a set of technologies used to translate text images (often printed documents that are scanned) into text files that can be manipulated (copied and pasted, searched, etc.).
The term “open data” refers to data sets whose access and use are free, without technical, legal or financial restrictions. By extension, this term is also used to qualify current governmental policies (induced by websites like data.gov in the United States, and data.gouv.fr in France) aspiring to promote the development of an economy based on the reuse of public data.
As opposed to the philosophy of free software, which is focused on the social consideration of user freedom, open source is a pragmatic programming methodology based on the effectiveness of collaborative work and source code sharing. The term was popularized by Eric Raymond, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative in 1998.
Developed by Microsoft in 1996, OpenType is a file format that describes digital typefaces intended to enrich TrueType, a previous format created by Apple at the end of the 1980s. It adds numerous functionalities, such as increasing the maximum number of glyphs per font, support of non-Latin characters, and the ability to code ligatures, etc.
An operating system (OS) is a set of computer programs responsible for the proper communication between hardware resources (CPU, GPU, storage device, etc.) and the user. It notably acts as a proxy between a machine’s software and hardware.
In the context of the Web, a pad is a real-time collaborative text editor that works in a Web browser. The best known of these is Etherpad (2008). Any user can edit a document, called a pad, that has its own URL address. The modifications of each contributor are identified by a visual marker, and are generally recorded in a global history (versioning).
Parallax refers to the visual effect caused by a shift in the observer’s position. On the Web, parallax scrolling denotes a scrolling system, popular in the 2010s, in which the various components of the webpage move at different speeds, producing a depth effect.
The personal computer was invented at Xerox PARC in the 1970s by American computer scientist Alan Kay and his team, in reaction to the mainframe architecture that was prevalent at the time. The IBM PC, released in 1981, was the first personal computer to be sold in the millions. Thanks to its open architecture, it became the ancestor of all “PC-compatible” computers that were sold with Microsoft operating systems (first MS-DOS, then Windows).
Introduced by Adobe in 1992, PDF (Portable Document Format) is a non-semantic language for describing and displaying paginated digital documents originally intended for printing. Using PostScript geometric coordinates, the specificity of PDF is to preserve the layout of a document ;fonts, images, graphic objects, etc.—in order to preserve the layout of the document. ;as defined by its author, regardless of the software, operating system and computer used to print or view it.
A PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) is a mobile device that has the functionality of a computer in a portable format. As of 2007, these devices have been gradually replaced by smartphones.
A method of representation in which spatial dimensions converge towards two or three vanishing points. Invented during the Renaissance, this type of projection provides the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional plane.
A photographic technique that enables one to reconstruct a three-dimensional volume through the comparison of the parallax of images obtained from different angles.
Phototypesetting refers to the techniques of setting type that uses photo-mechanical processes (masters matrices, transparent films, light- sensitive media) to produce texts. The process became standardized in the 1960s. Rapidly computerized, such systems were operated by specially trained users who typed and formatted texts onscreen before delivering a film to be cut out and integrated into a design.
A free programming language released in 1994 for the dynamic generation of web pages from a server. PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) usually interfaces with a relational database (MySQL) to output text files (HTML). It has been the most prevalent web server language since the late 1990s.
Used in the shell of Unix-like systems, the pipe (or pipeline) is a procedure for chaining commands so that the output of a previous process feeds the input of the next. Not to be confused with the Pipes service of the Yahoo! company which is a visual programming interface intended to sort and filter data off the Web.
The word pixel derives from “picture element,” refers to the unitary element of digital raster images. It can be associated with a single value (binary or 8-bit for black-only or grayscale images) as well as a “tuple” (table of values, typically three values corresponding to the red, green and blue channels). The pixel is, by extension, a unit of measurement (px) and their amount determines the definition of an image.
Plain text refers to a type of file format that only contains alphanumeric characters, without any information regarding layout (i.e. color, bold, typeface). The visual aspect of the text depends completely on the software that reads the file. Plain text is preferred for its ease of use and improved compatibility over various software and operating systems. It is mainly used to write source code for computer programs or texts using the Markdown syntax.
A plotter is a digital printing device that uses the controlled movement of a drawing tool (felt pen, pencil) to materialize digital vector images on paper.
A plug-in, also known as add-on or extension module, is a type of program which can be added to an existing software in order to extend its potentialities. These small programs are often released by teams other than the host software’s publisher and cannot be executed as standalones. The most used proprietary plug-in is probably Flash Player which allows the Web browser on which it is installed to display compatible animations.
The portability of a program refers to its capacity to be executed in multiple environments, whether it consists of hardware (CPU) or software (operating system, virtual machine, Web browser).
PostScript is a graphical description language for the communication of printable documents that may contain text, vector and bitmap elements. Very strongly inspired by the Interpress language developed by Xerox in the late 1970s, it was the founding technology of Adobe after the departure of its founders from the Xerox PARC.
In the context of CGI, this term refers to the ability to generate an image (or any other media) from an algorithm, thus excluding any human hand or photographic capture device.
Released in 2001 by Benjamin Fry and Casey Reas, two students of John Maeda at the MIT Media Lab, Processing is an easily understood programming language, to assist artists, designers or students who need visual and interactive creation. Distributed under the GPL License, Processing is able to produce stand-alone applications or applets that can be displayed in any Web browser.
A computer program is an algorithm whose operations are translated into a programming language. It includes a series of instructions that intend to achieve one or several specific objectives.
Computer programming denotes a set of activities involved in digital programming, which means writing source code in specific programming languages. Source codes are then compiled into machine language (binary code) that can be executed with a computer.
A programming language is a notation system, most often textual, used to write the source code of computer programs. Like natural languages, each programming language has its own alphabet, semantics, vocabulary and syntax rules.
Inspired by the command-line interfaces of early computers, a prompt is a request in the form of a series of words expressed in natural language, generated to obtain a given result. They are used to interact with machine learning programs such as Midjourney or ChatGPT (2022).
Initiated in 1989 by software engineer Guido van Rossum (brother of Just van Rossum, co-founder of the type designers’ collective LettError), the object-oriented programming language Python has the essential specificity of being interpreted (as opposed to compiled languages). This means that the program’s instructions are translated into machine language during the execution. It ensures simplicity in writing and portability from one operating system to another. On a visual level, Python is mainly used for type design (OpenType format, Robotfont software, etc.).
In computer science, a random event is characterized by the theoretical impossibility of predicting its occurrence. Usually dictated by a law of probability, randomness differs from chance, the unpredictability of which depends on factors external to the observer.
In computer science, a regular expression (regex) is a character sequence that describes, according to a precise syntax, a set of possible glyph sequences. Regular expressions are particularly used for searching and replacing portions of text.
Responsive design refers to the conception of flexible interfaces, such as touch or mouse input, variable screen ratios, sizes and resolutions, that are designed to fit a variety of devices, ranging from smartphones to tablets and desktop computers.
Contrary to plain text, rich text file formats preserve and contain text enrichment, page layout and the inclusion of heterogeneous elements such as images. These files are created and edited with word processing software like Word or LibreOffice.
Historically, this animation technique consisted of the manual drawing of an object, using a video sequence frame by frame. More recently, rotoscoping refers to the production of a dynamic mask that isolates an item, then uses its contours to place it on another background.
Released in 2001, Scribus is a layout software under GPL free license and is one of the only alternatives to InDesign, the software used by the vast majority of the graphic design industry. Le Tigre magazine (2006–2014) is designed with Scribus.
A script is a series of instructions which are intended to implement and direct the execution of computer programs. The term shell script is used to denote a program that interacts with a command-line interpreter.
A shell is a computer program that includes a command-line interface for interacting with an operating system. Such programs were developed with Unix at the beginning of the 1970s and Bash is nowadays the most used shell (it is installed by default on most of GNU/Linux distributions and macOS).
Introduced in 2008 with the release of the 2.5 version of the WordPress CMS, shortcodes are small pieces of code written between brackets that allow the administrator to execute simple instructions like media integration (video, etc.).
Skeuomorphism is a neologism combining the Greek roots skéuos (containing) and morpheús (form) which denotes a type of graphical user interface featuring realistic simulations of physical objects to represent virtual functions. This paradigm was used for the mobile operating systems iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) until the early 2010 before being gradually replaced by so-called “flat design” interfaces.
A software is a set of computer programs (and other operating information) that interact with the hardware of a computer. There are two main types of software: applications that allow a user to perform tasks, and so-called “system” software that enables the machine to run (e.g. printer drivers, network utilities).
A set of programs (compilers, debugger, software libraries) intended to produce software for a given platform (operating system, game console, microcontroller, etc.).
The source code of a computer program is a text containing instructions written in one or several programming languages. Most of the time, source code is compiled to binary code to be executed (read) by the machine. Once compiled, the binary code is impossible to edit without the source code.
A standard refers to an industrial norm. In the computer science field, standards allow broader compatibility between several pieces of software or hardware. The most important non-profit standardization organization is the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), in charge of regulating the compatibility of Web technologies since 1994.
The binocular process by which we perceive our environment by inferring information pertaining to depth, distance or proximity.
Streaming refers to the serving of data on digital networks in a continuous flow from a distant data provider to a client. This mode of uninterrupted media reception is in contrast to conventional downloading, which requires a complete file in order to open it.
SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is an format used to describe vector images which are based on a markup syntax. It is widely used on the Web instead of raster images (based on pixels).
Technical obsolescence refers to the downgrading process of an object due to the loss of function or usability, which may be caused by the manufacturer and/or designer (this is referred to as “planned obsolescence”).
Initiated in California in 1984, the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks are organized by the Sapling Foundation to disseminate “ideas worth spreading.” TED talks have caused several controversies, notably due to the events’ high entry price and the format of the talks (i.e. the idea of turning serious issues into a “show”).
A teletype (or teleprinter) is a device invented in the 1910s that is able to emit and receive electrically encoded messages. The first computers had no screens, so they used teleprinters as the main input and output peripherals. These devices looked like a sort of typewriter with electronic controls that print user commands and computer answers on paper readouts.
In the field of webdesign, a “template” refers to a model of graphic user interface separated from the contents (images, texts, etc.) and to be possibly modified by the user (colors, etc.)
TeX is a free document composition software, independent from any material used for previewing or printing. It was designed in 1977 by mathematician Donald Knuth, who was exasperated by the deficient quality of typography in the editing softwares of that time.
A 2-D image projected onto the surfaces of a 3-D mesh in order to transform its rendering properties (color, brightness, transparency, etc.)
In computer science, a tracker records a file’s location and its potential moves. This technique is notably used by BitTorrent, a file-sharing protocol that has adopted the peer-to-peer application architecture. The BitTorrent tracker helps to synchronize the electronic data transfer between users by locating the various parts of the downloaded file (the “bits” are gathered together to reconstruct a full copy of the file).
A video technique used to isolate and reproduce the movement of a target element from an animated sequence. Tracking can also be used to insert a digital 3-D object into a film shot.
TrueType is a digital font format that uses Bézier curves to describe each glyph and hinting algorithmsto optimize on-screen display. Created by Apple in the late 1980s to compete with Type 1 fonts integrated into PostScript, it was an important breakthrough compared to the bitmapfonts used at the time.
A Turing machine is a mathematical model invented by Alan Turing in 1936 that describes the functioning of calculating (computing) devices in order to give a precise definition of the concept of algorithm or “mechanical procedure.” It consists of an infinite ribbon divided into consecutive boxes, a head that can move, read and write symbols on the ribbon, a status register that memorizes the current state of the machine, and an action table that tells the machine which symbol to write on the ribbon. Any computing problem based on an algorithmic procedure can be solved by a Turing machine.
Created in 1969 by Kenneth Thompson at Bell Labs, Unix is an operating system initially intended to run on mainframe computers whose main interface uses a shell (command-line interpreter). Unix gave birth to numerous other operating systems like GNU/Linux, macOS and iOS, whose uses have shifted to personal computing.
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the Web address that allows a browser to locate an online resource (file, image, webpage, etc.) Formalized by Tim Berners-Lee at the beginning of the 1990s, the protocol that allows URLs to work is one of the key inventions of the World Wide Web.
UX (User experience) has been a popular term since the early 2000s to name all the elements that make up the “experience” of users of an application or website, including the marketing, purchase price, user interface, functionalities and domain name of the website.
Variable fonts, developed in 2016 by four “giants” of the Web (Adobe, Apple, Google and Microsoft), include a set of technologies that allow continuous shape interpolations between different masters (references) along one or more pre- established axes (weight, proportion, contrast, slant). The same OpenType file then combines the various cuts of a family and optimizes the bandwidth needed to load a webfont.
As opposed to raster (or bitmap, meaning comprised of pixels) images, vector file formats (images or fonts) only describe geometrical shapes (lines, Bézier curves, etc.) and their layout attributes (color, stroke, rotation, etc.). The SVG file format enables the integration of vector images onto webpages.
Images, sequencesor movements that are produced by a variety of technologies used in the film industry, usually ones that simulate effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve by more traditional means (explosions, lighting, etc.). Some of these processes are directly integrated into editing and postproduction software.
Virtual Reality (VR) covers all the techniques that enable a user to immerse themselves in a full virtual environment, generally with the use of a virtual reality helmet.
In an attempt to overcome the limits of the Thibaudeau Classification (1921), Maximilien Vox, publisher, critic, theoretician and typography historian developed a new classification method for typefaces in 1952. Adopted and completed by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI, the International Typography Association) in 1962, the Vox-ATypI classification includes eleven families of typefaces based on historical and visual criteria (humanists, garaldes, transitionals, didones, mechanistics, lineals, glyphics, scripts, graphics, blackletters and non-latins).
The Wayback Machine is a website for exploring the various snapshots of webpages from the Internet Archive, an initiative that has been archiving the Web since 1996.
The World Wide Web (WWW) is a global publication and consultation environment based on a hypertext link system that connects pages to each other. It was developed in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva. It is essential to distinguish it from the Internet, which consists of the hardware infrastructure and the ensemble of communication protocols between servers (TCP/IP, DNS), from the Web, which uses the Internet for the circulation of the three technical objects that comprise it: HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol, used for data transfer), URL (Uniform Resource Locator, for web address management) and HTML (HyperText Markup Language, which describes the content of webpages). Accessing the Web requires a dedicated software called a Web browser that reads and displays the HTML code sent by web servers. The word Web 2.0 emerged in the middle of the 2000s and refers to the mutation of user practices following the development of platforms based on behavior (Google AdSense) or “social networks,” that demand contributions and personal interactions (Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
A Web browser is a type of software designed to access and render the pages of the World Wide Web. The word browser is inspired by Netscape Navigator, one of the most important browsers in the mid-1990s. Today, the main browsers are Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari.
A Web server is a distant computer that is connected to the Internet network and is able to store and allow access to information and data over the Web (websites). Uploading files from a personal computer to a distant server is done via FTP (File Transfer Protocol).
Web tracking refers to all techniques (cookies, pixel tags, browsing histories, etc.) used to track and collect the browsing history and data of web users, often for direct or indirect commercial purposes. These techniques for collecting personal data are included in “free” services such as search engines, social media, or operating systems (OS). They generate most of the income of companies such as Facebook or Google (Alphabet).
The term “web-safe” refers to a set of typefaces (including Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Verdana, Courier) supposed to be installed on each personal computer. Their use ensures that websites are displayed correctly, unlike webfonts loaded remotely with the CSS @font-face instruction.
Webfont is a set of typeface file formats (TrueType, OpenType, Embedded OpenType, WOFF, SVG, etc.) meant to be sent by a server then displayed on a client’s browser (through the CSS instruction @font-face). Announced in September 2016, the new Variable Font standard format will allow, in the long-term, to send only one file that will be able to generate an infinity of variations (weights, proportions, etc.)
A wiki is a type of website that enables its visitors to create and edit content in a collaborative way, with or without registering. The first wiki, WikiWikiWeb was released in 1995. The most famous example of this is the free, universal and multilingual encyclopedia Wikipedia, launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger.
WIMP, (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing device) is an interface paradigm invented at Xerox PARC at the beginning of the 1970s by the American computer scientist Alan Kay and his team when developing the Xerox Alto, the first personal computer. In this system, the user interacts with the machine through images, abstractions of data or functions, which he activates with the pointing device. It is, nowadays, the main interface model used in the operating systems of personal computers (but not those of tactile devices like smartphones or tablets).
Visualization, through a series of lines, of the polygons or curves (NURBS) that compose a 3-D object.
The acronym WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) refers to a software graphical user interface whose screen preview matches the produced result of the document (usually printed). Bravo, the word-processing software of the Xerox Alto released in 1973, was the first WYSIWYG software. Today, it is the main interface paradigm of “creative” software like InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop.
Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) is a research and development center located in Palo Alto, California. Created in 1970 by the Xerox firm, specialized in laser printers, the Xerox PARC is, to a large extent, responsible for most of the contemporary personal computing paradigms: object-oriented programming, Ethernet network, graphical user interfaces, desktop metaphor, WYSIWYG, etc. Released in 1973, the Xerox Alto was one of the first personal computers with a graphical interface. After Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979, a number of these innovations were used by Apple and implemented in the Lisa in 1983 and later, the Macintosh in 1984.
Acronym for Extensible Markup Language, XML is a generic markup language dedicated to the description and exchange of data between automated systems. Its syntax is called «extensible» because it allows its user to define various namespaces, i.e. languages with their own vocabulary and grammar, such as XHTML (web pages), RSS (news feeds), SVG (vector images), etc.