education | April 08, 2013

John Maeda: "Artists & Designers Will Be The Innovators Of This Century"

"Amid the rain, and the fog, and the rain, and the rain, Seattle was home to the beginning of my journey traversing the fields of technology, art and design," education speaker John Maeda writes in a new editorial in The Seattle Times. He jokes that he was a Seattle native before it became cool to be a Seattle native; before the creative economy had taken hold; before Starbucks and the coffee culture; before the grunge music scene exploded; when Boeing, not Microsoft, was the tech giant. However, he says it was there in Seattle where he came to an important realization. "My foremost conclusion," he writes, "is that there is great power in these [STEM] fields taken separately, and even more when they are put together."

When Maeda was in grade school, he was talented in both art and math. His father, however, was quick to tell friends and family of Maeda's aptitude for mathematics—and he often left out Maeda's penchant for the arts. "At the time, it signaled something to me that he left out the art part; I just didn’t know what," the President of Rhode Island School of Design notes. "In hindsight, it was my first experience of the prejudices that cling to accomplishments in the arts, and a catalyst for me to push for the power of interdisciplinary thinking." Maeda would go on to become not only an example of the power that arts infused thinking holds, but also an advocate for incorporating this way of thinking into the broader school system.

Maeda recently launched the Congressional STEAM Caucus—a bipartisan legislative assembly designed to incorporate art and design concepts into what are known as the "STEM" courses (science, technology, engineering,and math). Why does he think that it's critical we turn young kids on to the idea of arts-infused learning and thinking? "I remain convinced," he writes, "that artists and designers will be the innovators of this century, and that the problem-solving, the fearlessness and the critical thinking and making skills that I see every day are what is needed to keep our country competitive." Further: "Designers and artists create objects, devices and services that are more engaging, more efficient, more desirable and ultimately, more human." In his engaging presentations, Maeda draws on these ideas to present a unique approach to education, leadership, and the economic forces that will drive us into the future.