NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 43

Design Today

John Maeda; The Intersection Of Design, Art, And Technology

Amin Nasr

“John is good at math and art!” said John Maeda’s third grade teacher to his father. Little John was over the moon, full of joy and glory and this statement of appreciation. But the next day, when his father recounted the story to everyone it was told in a rather different way. Proudly his father declared: “John is so good at math!” But why did he eliminate the word art? Is being good at art a bad thing? Young John would ponder this question would for years.
John Maeda is widely recognized as a pioneer among the new generation of inter-disciplinary designers. He is known as a digital artist, graphic designer, computer engineer, author and consultant for countless successful start-ups. According to Esquire magazine, he is one of the most influential people of the twenty-first century. Maeda believes that technology should be humanized, intending to provide a new definition of technology and to bridge the gap between technology and art. Throughout his academic career, he has trained designers who, in addition to using computers as executable tools, have a different understanding of technology and its computational and algorithmic infrastructure. In one of his books, “Design by Numbers”, Maeda encourages readers to discover mathematical relationships and the use of numbers as new media for the creation of new artwork. Maeda’s ideas combine scientific disciplines with design, and have inspired new wave digital designers such as Casey Reas,. Although Maeda is known as a digital designer, he never merely limits himself to digital media, and always craves a variety of innovative approaches, always pushing boundaries to discover new design solutions.

Paola Antonelli, the design curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, wrote about John Maeda in an article in the New York Times: “What makes him extremely influential is not only his enormous aesthetic talent, but his capacity to extend a rigorous design philosophy, based on simplicity and clarity of purpose, to the most important tool of the contemporary design process, computer software.”
John Maeda has been a lecturer at MIT Media Lab for twelve years and has trained designers who are fully capable of writing code as well as engineers who are also skilled designers. In 2008, he took on the management of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he was able to institutionalize his approach to exploring the intersection of art and technology. As the manager of the RESD School, he managed to support and lead a branch called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). This approach is rooted in a philosophy that argues future economic and cultural growth is possible through combining science with art. John Maeda uses technology not only as a medium but a process of creation based on simplicity and impartiality.

“Time Paint” is one of his most well-known works, in which colors flutter in a fluid environment. He wrote about this work: “I wrote this to demonstrate how drawing on the computer wasn’t like drawing on paper”. The colors float in space and the user can change the perspective of the page by moving a gray box creating a different experience. “The Reactive Square” is his other work, a black box that reacts differently to sounds.
Many of Maeda’s artworks are based on mathematical algorithms that in some sense are contributions to the STEAM idea. The user maintains an interactive experience with the artwork, so that “User Inputs” such as sound, mouse movement, keyboard inputs, video, and even passing of time produce a variety of outputs for the audience.
Using PostScript, Maeda has also designed the black and white typographic poster series of Morisawa. This digital typography experience attempts to solve two basic types of typography problems: the complexity of expression and illegibility. The project won a gold medal at the Tokyo Type Directors Club. 
Commenting on another project, the Shiseido Thirty Year Anniversary Poster (1995), Maeda says: “I didn’t want to create anything too overtly crass, and thus I used some data-rich techniques in an extremely subtle way”. The poster contains three main elements each based on Shiseido’s 30-year-old data that has been extracted and illustrated by the algorithm and program he designed. The large square contains teaser frames, curved lines as titles, and black dashed lines as soundtracks of videos. Interestingly, although John Maeda is a digital designer who ultimately produces and executes his work through codes and mathematical algorithms, he still believes in the design process. He uses coding as a means to implement his ideas which are ultimately produced based on a variety of digital technique.
John Maeda has won numerous design awards, including the prestigious National Design Award, and many of his works are in permanent collections, including the New York Museum of Modern Art. Maeda is the author of several important books, including the “The Laws of Simplicity”, which has been translated into fourteen languages and published all over the world. The book reveals the profound influence of Paul Rand on his work, most notably its simplicity and precision. Since 2015, Maeda has been publishing the annual Design in Tech Report. This report attempts to identify and review trends and their effects on technology. It is published and distributed with the aim of communicating with potential investors in the fields of design and technology.

Amin Nasr

began his professional career in 2002 in the design and advertising field as an art director and visual artist. After many years of working as an independent design consultant and also working with different advertising agencies he founded withit in 2010, a human-centred design studio located in Toronto, Canada. He has worked for technology companies and as a UX consultant and Interaction Designer, developing projects all around the world and for a diverse portfolio of clients in the industrial, commercial, and publication. He holds a bachelor’s degree in graphic design and his MA. Des. in visual art and he is a member of Interaction Design Foundation (IDF).

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