design | May 29, 2013

John Maeda: Simple Design In A Technologically Complex World [VIDEO]

"Something was happening in the 80s and 90s that defied logic," design speaker John Maeda explains, "this thing, a microchip, was able to do the following: It was able to get cheaper every year, and get faster every year at the same time." As he told the audience at a recent New York Ideas panel discussion, the ability to make something more complex at a cheaper cost defies everything we once knew about design. Because the computer chip has become so cheap to manufacture, it is now possible to computerize almost anything. Even, as Maeda says, things that we may not want or need to be computerized.

In the talk, Maeda uses the example of a refrigerator that has been programmed to tell you that you are running low on milk as proof of the expansion of technology. As he joked to the audience, you don't need a computer to tell you that you are almost out of milk—you can easily just look at the milk and know you need to buy more. Often times, we become so caught up with the newness of technology that we want to include it in our designs simply because we can. However, Maeda says that we usually end up realizing we don't really need things to be as intricate as they can possibly be. "We yearn for simplicity in an age where technology has mandated that everything can be complex," he explains. "Simplicity is about, how do we as people, as designers of our environment, ask the question: What do we really need?" That's the role of designers today. Instead of asking whether something should be complex in design simply because it's new and it's possible—the question instead should focus on whether the object needs to be complex.

Maeda is highly sought after for his insight on technology, design, and leadership. As the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, he explores the role that simplicity can play in technological design. And, how we can make technology more human and more user-friendly through simple design constructs. In his keynotes, he explains how using design to simplify technology can help us make our connections with each other more meaningful. He explores the way that art and design can dramatically improve technology and bridge the disconnect between man and machine.