John Maeda is distressed at the state of the design arts. As upgrades in design software keep users in a constant state of tutelage, esteem tends to fall on those who master the app, not the craft. The conceptual innovations at... [more]
John Maeda is distressed at the state of the design arts. As upgrades in design software keep users in a constant state of tutelage, esteem tends to fall on those who master the app, not the craft. The conceptual innovations at the core of artistic creation lose out as software presents new tools to manipulate old ideas. Maeda calls it the "Photoshop guru mentality."
Maeda learned to value process and mastery from his father, a tofu maker who adheres to traditional Japanese methods. Without the awareness of technique that comes with mastery of one's art, there is no basis for tradition, and therefore, innovation. The result is the cut-and-paste quandary that created a design culture in which 'the first person in line for the upgrades gets the design award.'
Not even his own work escapes scrutiny. He insists that his interactive work is boring, but his big name clients '- Shiseido, Tokushuu Paper, etc.'- disagree. It could be that drawing will always remain his favorite skill. He's been drawing since childhood, but his business-minded father insisted he learn a more lucrative trade. So, he turned to computer science.
After graduating from MIT, he happened upon Paul Rand's "Thoughts." Rand inspired Maeda to pursue graphic design, which he did in Japan, where he became a successful designer in both print and digital media. Returning to MIT in 1996 to join the faculty of the Media Laboratory, Maeda invited Rand to speak at MIT.
His computer-based graphics play with the tech-headed notions of series and constant change. His company's New Year's card for 1998 features a surging of numbers, beginning with one and ending with 1998. The cover he designed for the New York Times Magazine offers the word "new," occasionally punctuated with the word "thing," in a seemingly endless repetition differentiated only by hue. The ideas are simple, playful, and charming.
Whereas a designer like David Carson organizes his page with a relentless quest for pure difference, creating a page without recognizable order, leaving the viewer nothing to grasp (except the page as a whole), Maeda seems to anchor the page with a familiar series -- a sentence, a number line, a geometric shape.
But to paraphrase Emerson, this anchor is quicksand. For just as the viewer's eye comes to rest on what seems a stable site, the page moves: the line shifts mode, the next number grows or shrinks or modulates color, a word which seems so familiar blurs into the one next to it,
morphing mid-way through and emerging as a new version
of, well, "new."
Perhaps this is the figure par excellence for Maeda's work: a series of endless differentiation. His work offers lines, circles, and spaces contained by common figures -' the word "new," for instance. But each work offers endless distinction: nothing remains the same, or at least not for very long.