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Design Evangelist John Maeda’s New Job: Promoting Inclusion and Open Source

Congratulations are in order for design speaker John Maeda, who’s moving on after three productive years as the Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Maeda will join Automattic, parent company of WordPress.com, WooCommerce, and Jetpack, as their Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion, where he’ll oversee design efforts and ensure an inclusive and efficient user experience for all Automattic products. 

The tech industry suffers from a notoriously poor diversity record, and Maeda will do his best to help right the ship. “I believe that creativity and inclusion are two sides of the same coin,” he recently told FastCoDesign. “They’re necessary things. If you care about design, you have to care about inclusion.” Maeda also dropped by Bloomberg TV to discuss the move, his passion for open source, the role of diversity and inclusion in tech, working for a VC firm versus a startup, and much more.


Maeda’s reputation in the design community is unmatched. In breaking the news about his move, Wired calls him “a bellwether for the design industry,” citing his “prescient understanding of where design is going, and his innate ability to get there first.” Others agree: he’s received the White House’s National Design Award, the Blouin Foundation’s Creative Leadership Award, and the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize. Stay tuned to see what he dreams up for Automattic. 


Want to hear more from John Maeda about the role of design in tech? Book him for a keynote by contacting The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau. 


Next Big Thing: Why John Maeda Says Design Is More Important Than Tech

“Technology used to be the differentiating factor,” John Maeda says in a segment on Bloomberg TV's Next Big Thing. “Now we don't care anymore because design matters more than technology.” Maeda, popular design speaker and President of the Rhode Island School of Design, says that what we value in our devices has changed. It used to be that the “fastest” was always the winner; we'd decide what computer to buy, for example, based on its processing speed. Today, however, the playing field has levelled and consumers don't automatically equate “faster” with “better.” Since all companies are capable of using the same technology, they need to stand out in another way.

Design has become that differentiating factor, he explains. This extends far deeper than just the physical shape, size, and color of the product itself, as well. Application programming interfaces (sets of programming instructions and standards for accessing a Web-based software application or Web tool) on your phone is one example. Programmers design these APIs to help the software on your phone work together more effectively. Since all phones use APIs, it's not about how fast they work, but rather, which one the user “likes better.” People want products that are more “human” Maeda says in the interview; they want products that fit better with their life and are seamless to use. It's the designer's job to deliver that to them.

Whether he's speaking about the way art and design are becoming integral to the future of innovation or how we can incorporate creative leaders into industry, Maeda's keynotes are forward-thinking with a wealth of key takeaways. He inspires audiences to look at creativity differently—and to imagine the possibilities new ways of thinking can hold. To book John Maeda as a speaker on design, creativity, education, or leadership, contact The Lavin Agency.

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.

People-Driven Design: John Maeda On The Human Experience In The Arts

Technology, with all of it's advancements, can only take us so far. Good design—John Maeda notes in a presentation at the Data & Design Conference—puts people at its core. It is important, he says, to incorporate the human experience into the design process. Empathy and personal judgment are essential components to harnessing the potential of new technologies. Maeda adds that the most effective new products have been created through a combination of data, technology, and human intuition.

Humans, he says, are still capable of rationalizing and being creative in a way that machines are not. While the information we can acquire from big data sets about the functionality of a product is helpful, it is not a complete solution on its own. In the speech, Maeda advocates for a model where we merge humans with machines—to get the most out of both. Insightful but light-hearted, Maeda's presentation perfectly embodied his philosophy of humanizing technology. What's more, he provides a framework for melding man and machine into an innovative, holistic unity ready for the future.

Designing A Better World: CNN Profiles John Maeda [VIDEO]

As part of its special “TED Talk Tuesdays” series, CNN recently profiled the innovative design principles practiced by  John Maeda, and provided a breakdown of the popular TED talk he gave this past summer. As he explains in the talk, design is a discipline which is just as worthy of recognition and esteem as math or science. Not only that, but good design can actually help us learn new things and create a better world.

As technology becomes a bigger and bigger part of our daily activities, Maeda stresses the important link that design can create between humans and the devices we create to make our lives better. “Technology [has been] succeeding each year in making everything cheaper, faster, and smaller,” Maeda says, “but [it is] failing to create any emotional connection or to bring any meaning to our lives.” Design however, is capable of bridging the gap between man and machine—making our user experience not just more efficient, but also more enjoyable. That is what he set out to do with his work at the Rhode Island School of Design and in his personal projects (some of which are featured in the MoMA's permanent collection). “My intent was to show that the computer could be more than a cold, clinical object; it could do things that delighted us,” he says. He says that staying competitive and improving on these technologies requires us to design them in such a way that they will provide a meaningful contribution to our lives.

Despite the fact that design is all around us, Maeda explains that we often become immune to how important it is in every aspect of our lives. A well-designed product, or an appropriately chosen font, can dramatically change the way we interact with that object. By including arts in the curriculum—both in school and in business—Maeda says we will drive innovation forward and be able to succeed in an increasingly creative world.

John Maeda In Wired: Videogames Belong In The MoMA

Do the video games Pac-Man, Tetris, SimCity, and Myst belong in the Museum of Modern Art? Some critics say no.  John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design however, says yes. While you can make the argument about whether or not these games are actually art or not, the MoMA acquired these games as “outstanding examples of interaction design.” And as Maeda explains in a new Wired article—there's no question that videogames certainly fit that description. “Videogames are indeed design: They’re sophisticated virtual machines that echo the mechanical systems inside cars,” he writes. “Like well-designed cars, well-designed videogames are ways of taking your mind to different places.”

In the article, Maeda—a world-renowned artist, graphic designer and computer scientist—argues that videogames are more than just entertainment. He explains that when he attended a MoMA Board with Eric Schmidt several years ago, the Google Chairman said digital acquisitions should be made based on one thing: “quality.” This advice has stuck with him, and he says it is especially useful in assessing whether videogames are worthy of admittance into the museum. Maeda says that, at the end of the day, “quality trumps all, whatever the medium and tools are: paints or pixels, canvas or console.” So, if a videogame exhibits outstanding quality in its design construction—which was the requirement—then it deserves to be featured. He also adds that digital media is making us reassess what we define as “quality,” an important conversation due to the increasing role that digital technology plays in our lives today.

Given that some of Maeda's work is featured in MoMA's permanent collection, he is certainly qualified to comment on the value of digital media in the art and design world. Named by Esquire as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century, Maeda's work rests at the intersection between humanity and technology. He combines art with math, science and technology and believes that each discipline compliments the others and are all of equal merit. He has written several books, including, most recently, The Laws of Simplicity. In his talks, he candidly discusses how new technology is changing the creative economy, and stresses the importance that an education in the arts has for developing beneficial collaboration skills. He also teaches audiences how art, design, technology, and business intersect in the innovation process and why those who understand this new way of thinking will win in today's ever-changing marketplace.

Bridging the Gap Between Craft and Technology: John Maeda at The Adobe Museum of Digital Technology

John Maeda, the President of the Rhode Island School of Design and one of the world’s foremost design thinkers, presents a brand new exhibit at the uniquely virtual Adobe Museum of Digital Media. The exhibit, entitled “Atoms + Bits = the neue Craft (ABC)” will run from March 23 – December 31 on Adobe’s all-online museum.

The idea behind the exhibit is to bridge the gap and analyze the connection between the digital world, the physical world and the world of craft. Maeda’s take is not that digital creativity is replacing physical, handcrafted creativity — instead, it is that the two are overlapping to become the same creativity, or what Maeda has called “the neue Craft”. In the online exhibit, Maeda will use info-graphics, video and audio to show how traditionally physical craftsmanship is being shifted into a more digital space, with traditionally analog tools such as pens and brushes being used to manipulate digital images. Maeda himself elaborates on this in a recent Design Week blog post: “Computers let us imagine digitally what we once could only validate by handcraft in physical form – the infinite malleability and reusability of bits have forever changed the creative process. But just as it took Icarus to first imagine human flight by carefully observing how birds can fly, digital tools have relied on many of the original tools and media used by artists in the pre-digital world.”

To view a preview video of the exhibit, head on over to the Adobe Museum of Digital Media, and be sure to visit again on March 23rd when the exhibit officially opens.

Read more about design speaker John Maeda