temple of inspiration

John Maeda, Automattic’s Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion and Strategic Advisor to KPCB, recently delivered a fascinating presentation at SXSW – the 2017 Design in Tech Report. The third iteration of this report covers some wide-ranging issues for designers in the digital age though the focus is applicable for any creative. As Maeda’s title implies – he is interested in the concept of inclusion within the design world.

Maeda, whose parents moved from Japan to the United States in 1957, describes his upbringing in the early chapters of his book Maeda@Media – first published by Thames&Hudson in 2001He is honest about his father’s drive, as modest as his life was running a tofu factory in Seattle, and the fact that while shining shoes on a cargo ship at the age of thirteen he had heard of two universities – Harvard and M.I.T. As Maeda recounts, his father ingrained into his children that they must attend one of these schools. Having informed his teacher that he wanted to go to M.I.T. – Maeda was told “John, I’m sorry that’s not possible, you are Oriental.”

In 1996 he became a Professor at the M.I.T. Media Lab and in 1999 Esquire magazine named him one of the 21 most important people of the 21st Century, moving on in 2008 he become president of the Rhode Island School of Design.

The body of work and thinking captured in the pages of Maeda@Media is as diverse as it is complex. Through the pages he explores his process, both as a computer-coder and as an artist – with an equal balance of digitally generated work and marks of the hand. Many of the works shown are from his 2005 exhibition JOHN MAEDA: KAMI TO COMPUTER which showed at the Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo, translated it means Paper and computer. 

As a typographer the observation would be that the pages are set, perhaps intentionally, in a naive fashion. The neutral use of type making a statement about the work, complementing and pronouncing it visually. For those who have seen Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica, this is exactly what Wim Crouwel was talking about and indeed, the book is set entirely in Helvetica.

For a publication on someone who is known predominantly as a digital designer/artist the production of the book is in ways as interactive as the work it depicts. Interspersed through the 5cm thick tome are black and white images of his father’s tofu factory, printed on paper as raw as the soybean staple itself. There are moments of repetition – a flick-book of an evolving graphic and of course there is the foreward by Nicholas Negroponte, the American architect who founded the M.I.T. Media Lab, One Laptop per Child Association and was the first investor in Wired magazine.

To listen to Maeda speak – 15 years after this books release – about start-ups, design, business and bring it together under the theme of inclusion is a powerful experience and combined with the content of this book you can’t help but understand the temple of knowledge that is held in his mind.


To view view John’s work visit his site.