John Maeda by Audra Lydon

Can numbers program art? John Maeda, a scientist at the MIT Media Lab, has been doing this for more than a decade. Many of his projects like his custom designed shoes for Reebok, or his design for Google, were mathematical codes he created where, on the other side of the equal sign, there are colors and lines: a piece of art. They weren’t drawn by hand, and they weren’t involuntary acts of human emotion, but they were predestined outcomes that John Maeda designed with numbers.

John Maeda may be representative of the future blend between the world of technology advancements and the human need for artistic expression and design. He maintains three careers in the fine arts, design, and interrelated technology. The answer to why he believes in and strives for the balance between these worlds can be found in his words: “I am afraid that technology will make us stop imagining, and we will get stuck.” And so, John Maeda works to “humanize technology.”

John Maeda’s online media lab,, shows the academic explorations he makes on a broad range of subjects, from the human personality to random acts like the rolling of your mouse over a page, or the sporadic typing of keys.

John Maeda has written 6 books on the subject of art and programming. His book “Creative Code” explains in depth how he makes mathematical codes into images. His goal with these publications were to get the designers to see how important and boundless programming can be, and to get programers to see all the humanistic possibilities in their work.

John Maeda’s goals also include applying his creative and analytical efforts towards the design of useful objects for a progressive world. If you pay attention to the designs of Cartier, Google, Philips electronics, Reebok, or Samsung, then you have seen Maeda’s work, or you are at least familiar with brands that are moving in this same direction Maeda works toward. Since his publication of “Laws of Simplicity,” many industries seem to be adopting this method of “less,” and Maeda has become a public spokesperson for the art of simplicity.

According to Maeda: “Everyone likes to say, ‘Less is More;’ It’s not true. Less is less. We want to get by with less because we have too much, but if you have less things, they have to be great things and so… if you have a great chair, and one or two of them, it is worth more than 20,000 bad chairs in your house.” The success of this simplicity theory can be seen with the amazing success of organizations such as Apple, who introduced a product into the market with fewer features and claimed dominant success.

John Maeda’s most well known piece of work, and perhaps the most relevant today, is his book “Laws of Simplicity.” John Maeda lays out 10 simple rules in his book that can make any taunting or oversized aspect of life more simple. So if you are overwhelmed by that mess on your desk, just ask Maeda.

John Maeda’s “Laws of Simplicity”

  1. Reduce
  2. Organize
  3. Time
  4. Learn
  5. Differences
  6. Context
  7. Emotion
  8. Trust
  9. Failure
  10. The One

John Maeda explains the process behind each step and how to properly use them without discarding valuable information in your quest for simplification in his book, or on his website.

John Maeda was named by Esquire magazine as one of the 21 most important people for the twenty-first century. His process that is noted by many in the design world, as well as, the programming world is a testament to how education, art, and technology are beginning to come together. From academic exploration at MIT, to writing his own guide books, John Maeda aims to “change how creativity is viewed in this century.”

“Squint at the world. You will see more, by seeing less.”

-John Maeda


    Maeda, John. “John Maeda.” MIT blog. MIT, 2006. Web. 4 May 2010.
    Maeda, John. Laws of Simplicity. 1st. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. Print.
    Maeda, John. “Laws of Simplicity / John Maeda.” The Laws of Simplicity. 2006, n.d. Web. 4 May 2010.

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