John Maeda on Data and Design

By Diane Camber 2013/09/16
John Maeda is president of the Rhode Island School of Design.
He is also a programmer and an artist who has been searching for the meaning of design for the past 30 years. He shared his thoughts in a keynote address to TCC 2013. “I’m very interested in design. I spoke to a young Tableau engineer earlier today who knew what design was. And I was jealous of him because I used to feel that way,” he said.

The word "technology" derives from the Greek word for art noted Maeda. “Art is that word that I think grounds all of visualization. It’s not considered the fortifying muscular protein word. It’s always seen as the nice to have word, but it’s the need to have word.” He continued “all that number magic needs another kind of magic” and software like Tableau “really smells like the new way to do things.”

Maeda, who has a nose for art and design, went on to examine the notion of design by looking at it at three levels:

  1. The world of emotions that encompasses visual computer interface
  2. The world of actions which is the natural domain of architecture and design
  3. The world of relationships involving people and their social relationships
Design is hitting all three points according to Maeda.

Maeda described the creative compass which brings together science and engineering as well as art and design into a four part quadrant. It illustrates Maeda’s point that beauty and utility are both essential. “You don’t have design if you don’t have art. Both are critical,” he said.

“In the same way you cannot have engineering without science. They are two linked type of things: design and art, engineering and science.” To ensure that all four quadrants of the creative compass are included in our school curriculum Maeda and RSDI have launched an initiative to add Art to the prevailing Science, Technology, Education and Math curriculum in the public school system.

Maeda concluded the keynote by touching on how designers can support creative teams. He exhorted the crowd to carry on, be curious, and to continue to create.


Submitted by Keith M Cochran (not verified) on

Will you be posting video of Maeda's keynote?