Pretty wild stuff: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) announced on December 21, 2007 that John Maeda, Associate Director of Research at the MIT Media Lab, has accepted the offer to become the 16th president of RISD. (Read more at RSID). Not sure who Maeda is, catch our Profile Interview with Maeda.
In a previous publication you stated: “Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.”
How specifically do you think art can be presented to the common person as a part of their life rather than merely a part of museums? Can you give any examples in the visual arts that help illustrate this statement? This is an area that my new group the Physical Language Workshop is currently working on. Our hypothesis is that by re-architecting some common web technologies, we can provide a new kind of distributed creative supply/demand that has not yet existed. Different levels of artistic expression will have varying levels of associated value. Average art can have an average value, and can be a new kind of creative currency.
Today most people see art as a way to visually express ideas and feelings. Are you implying that art can be functionally useful to the general public? Do you think one day society will accept art as a science because technology has become a new form of art? I think creativity is an important untapped resource in our society. Currently, only the “most creative” get to be creative. I think that it is a shame. The general public needs a means of exercising their creativity in order to discover some kind of tangible benefit from it (beyond the mere joy of exercising the freedom to be creative).
Technology hasn’t given birth to a new form of art; people using technology have given birth to a form of art that is perhaps new. The biggest question is no longer, “Is it new?” The biggest question now is, “Is it any good?”
What is the benefit of teaching creativity and art? In every in-flight magazine there is a piece of wisdom. Today I flew to NY and there was an article in the in-flight magazine on proverbs. It said there is a Japanese proverb, “To teach is to learn.” Is there no greater benefit in life (besides family) than learning? I am currently enrolled in an MBA course, which has very low creativity, but I am learning new things everyday. So it isn’t just about creativity and art. It is the experience of enrichment through learning as learning, or learning through teaching. To work the “exploration muscle” in your brain is a worthy way of life.
As a teacher, how do you judge “good technology” when there seem to be so many aspects to consider? What aspects or traits of technology do you consider to have value? Good technology is always best when it is not the major issue of discussing a technology-based experience. When it is invisible, and simply the source of the magic of it all, it is best. I have heard this said similarly many times before by many people, but I feel that it is usually said from the perspective of someone who knows very little about the technology under discussion. It is convenient to discuss the technology as “getting in the way.” In the way of what? Oftentimes it stands in the way of a thin idea. Why is the idea thin? Because technology demands you to treasure it — to do what you can because something new is possible. Technology craves attention, and we feed its insecurities. In the process of serving technology, we often forget why we were doing something in the first place. Such a process inevitably gets you in trouble because the all-consuming attention given to the technology leads you to an arrival point with very little conceptual strength. One must always seek balance by acknowledging the infinite hunger of new technologies (for more technology).
What links are there between design and technology? Design can aid technology, but many producers of technology don’t seem to value design. Why have you chosen to unite the two? I chose to unite design and technology because it was relevant for me to do so at the time. But I do not think it necessary for anyone else starting out. Everyone is different and valuable. My value came from the mix of those two things.
You talk a lot about Paul Rand. What is it about his design work or his approach to design that fascinate you? What objective or insight did he give you “to aspire forever?” The humility and the confidence in Paul Rand, the person I met, continue to inspire me. He had a wonderful balance of strength and weaknesses that was very human, but also superhuman. At 82, maybe that is a natural state of being.
Is your work more a process of discovery or the application of a consistent methodology? Do you work for personal satisfaction or for solving larger problems? I find my work to be a constant process of discovery and failure. In only the rarest of moments do I see any success. And I know from experience that success can be fleeting, so I do try to find pride in my many failures whenever possible.
What do you consider a failure? A failure, technically speaking, is something that turns out in a way you didn’t expect or hope. A real failure is when you don’t have enough talent to take that unexpected twist and ride it into something better than when you first started.
What is your interest in typography? I have no real interest in typography today. I used to be part of the cigarette-smoking, chummy Swiss cult in Tokyo but I broke free.
How are typography and technology currently connected? The connection between typography and technology is the same connection that everything has to technology today. Everything is (unfortunately) connected to technology today.
Do you think this new generation of technology will lead to some groundbreaking shifts in the way we communicate? No.
How do you describe your profession to people? I call myself a person that aspires to think creatively. I’ve managed to turn that into a profession as a professional professor. I lucked out.
What other professions would you like to practice? Currently I’m getting an MBA. After that I plan go to cooking school. So maybe I want to be a chef in the future.
About John Maeda
John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and is a founding voice for “simplicity” in the digital age.