We in the Philadelphia office were recently privileged to attend a lecture by John Maeda, the forward thinking Chief Experience Officer at Publius Sapient, the technology and consulting arm of communications conglomerate Publicis. The event was held at Drexel University. Named as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st Century by Esquire, and an MIT trained engineer, John has held diverse positions with Automattic, the parent company of WorldPress.com, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, led research at MIT Media Lab, and served as president of the Rhode Island School of Design. His awards include the White House’s National Design Award, the Blouin Foundation’s Creative Leadership Award, the AIGA Medal, the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize, and he is well-known for his Ted Talks. He’s authored several books, including “The Laws of Simplicity” and “Redesigning Leadership”. He was at Drexel to celebrate his latest book, “How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age”.
In layman’s terms, John led us through how computers think, the implications for design, and the effects on us humans. While John points out that humans were the first computers, he notes that today’s machines are already more powerful than we can comprehend, that they are becoming more powerful at an exponential pace, that they are increasingly governing the world in which we live, and that is difficult to understand how computation works. What implications does that have for today’s designers?
For most of history, design and art have been grounded in the idea of the lone genius perfecting product and art: this is the Temple of Design, fickle and commercial with a handful of superstars dictating new ideas that quickly cycle in and out of fashion, and celebrated in museums and monographs. John suggests that this model of the sole genius or design star crafting a finished product becomes disrupted in a computational world where designs are always in flux, never finished and influenced by continuous feedback from users. According to the Temple of Tech, the new definition of quality is an unfinished product launched into the world and subsequently modified by observing how it survives in the “wild”, and that teams of designers and technicians embrace working incrementally and flexibly on a series of changes that respond to customers’ ever-changing needs and requirements. Computers, the cloud and new technologies allow us unprecedented ability to test and re-test incomplete ideas. Thus, timely design becomes more important than timeless design.
To which temple will you belong?