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Hardcover | ISBN: 9780262133548 | 250 pp. | 10 x 10 in | April 1999
Paperback | $42.95 Trade | £29.95 | ISBN: 9780262632447 | 250 pp. | 10 x 10 in | August 2001

Design by Numbers

Foreword by Paola Antonelli


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 book's 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.

About the Author

An internationally recognized leader at the intersection of design and technology, John Maeda is Design Partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Silicon Valley. He served until 2014 as the 16th President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and before that was Associate Director of the MIT Media Lab. He is a designer, technologist, and catalyst behind the national movement to transform STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to STEAM with the addition of the arts. He is the author of Design by Numbers (1999), The Laws of Simplicity (2006) and Redesigning Leadership (2011), all published by The MIT Press.


“John Maeda shows graphic designers how to step back a level and create their own digital tools. His elegant book could change the way we think about graphic design; I hope it will.”
William J. Mitchell, Dean, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT


Honorable Mention, 2000, American Association of Museums (AAM) publication competition