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John Maeda

John Maeda joined Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2013 as Design Partner, where he works within KPCB’s ProductWorks program helping entrepreneurs and portfolio companies to build design into their company cultures. From 2008 to 2013 he was President of Rhode Island School of Design and before that was Associate Director of the MIT Media Lab. In 2008 Esquire magazine named Maeda one of the 75 most influential people of the twenty-first century. He is the author of The Laws of Simplicity (MIT Press, 2006) and other books.

Titles by This Author

When designer and computer scientist John Maeda was tapped to be president of the celebrated Rhode Island School of Design in 2008, he had to learn how to be a leader quickly. He had to transform himself from a tenured professor--with a love of argument for argument’s sake and the freedom to experiment--into the head of a hierarchical organization. The professor is free to speak his mind against “the man.” The college president is “the man.” Maeda has had to teach himself, through trial and error, about leadership. In Redesigning Leadership, he shares his learning process. Maeda, writing as an artist and designer, a technologist, and a professor, discusses intuition and risk-taking, “transparency,” and all the things that a conversation can do that an email can’t. In his transition from MIT to RISD he finds that the most effective way to pull people together is not social networking but free food. Leading a team? The best way for a leader to leverage the collective power of a team is to reveal his or her own humanity. Asked if he has stopped designing, Maeda replied (via Twitter) “I’m designing how to talk about/with/for our #RISD community.” Maeda’s creative nature makes him a different sort of leader--one who prizes experimentation, honest critique, and learning as you go. With Redesigning Leadership, he uses his experience to reveal a new model of leadership for the next generation of leaders.

Finally, we are learning that simplicity equals sanity. We're rebelling against technology that's too complicated, DVD players with too many menus, and software accompanied by 75-megabyte "read me" manuals. The iPod's clean gadgetry has made simplicity hip. But sometimes we find ourselves caught up in the simplicity paradox: we want something that's simple and easy to use, but also does all the complex things we might ever want it to do. In The Laws of Simplicity, John Maeda offers ten laws for balancing simplicity and complexity in business, technology, and design--guidelines for needing less and actually getting more.Maeda--a professor in MIT's Media Lab and a world-renowned graphic designer--explores the question of how we can redefine the notion of "improved" so that it doesn't always mean something more, something added on.Maeda's first law of simplicity is "Reduce." It's not necessarily beneficial to add technology features just because we can. And the features that we do have must be organized (Law 2) in a sensible hierarchy so users aren't distracted by features and functions they don't need. But simplicity is not less just for the sake of less. Skip ahead to Law 9: "Failure: Accept the fact that some things can never be made simple." Maeda's concise guide to simplicity in the digital age shows us how this idea can be a cornerstone of organizations and their products--how it can drive both business and technology. We can learn to simplify without sacrificing comfort and meaning, and we can achieve the balance described in Law 10. This law, which Maeda calls "The One," tells us: "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful."

Most art and technology projects pair artists with engineers or scientists: the artist has the conception, and the technical person provides the know-how. John Maeda is an artist and a computer scientist, and he views the computer not as a substitute for brush and paint but as an artistic medium in its own right. Design By Numbers is a reader-friendly tutorial on both the philosophy and nuts-and-bolts techniques of programming for artists.

Practicing what he preaches, Maeda composed Design By Numbers using a computational process he developed specifically for the book. He introduces a programming language and development environment, available on the Web, which can be freely downloaded or run directly within any JAVA-enabled Web browser. Appropriately, the new language is called DBN (for "design by numbers"). Designed for "visual" people—artists, designers, anyone who likes to pick up a pencil and doodle—DBN has very few commands and consists of elements resembling those of many other languages, such as LISP, LOGO, C/JAVA, and BASIC.

Throughout the book Maeda emphasizes the importance—and delights—of understanding the motivation behind computer programming, as well as the many wonders that emerge from well-written programs. Sympathetic to the "mathematically challenged," he places minimal emphasis on mathematics in the first half of the book. Because computation is inherently mathematical, the books second half uses intermediate mathematical concepts that generally do not go beyond high-school algebra. The reader who masters the skills so clearly set out by Maeda will be ready to exploit the true character of digital media design.