Art TED Talks

4 works from John Maeda that explore the intersection of technology, art and design

John Maeda still remembers a parent-teacher conference from when he was a child. Maeda beamed with pride as his teacher told his father, “John is good at math and art.” However, the next day, when Maeda’s father recounted the conference to a customer at his store, all he remembered was, “John is good at math.”

Maeda, now the President of the Rhode Island School of Design, shares in this hilarious talk from TEDGlobal 2012 that one of the central questions of his life became: “Why did dad not say ‘art?’”

Maeda’s studies in math and computing took him to MIT, his father’s dream. But he eventually realized that he had to follow his own passions and enrolled in art school. It was there that he began to see common space between the areas of study.

“I began to think about the computer as a spiritual place of thinking. I was influenced by performance art,” says Maeda, before sharing one of his earliest works — a computer enacted by people. “When people say, ‘I don’t get art. I don’t get it all,’ that means art is working.  Art is supposed to be enigmatic … Art is about asking questions — questions that might not be answerable.”

To see Maeda’s human computer and hear his ideas on how design can inform leaders, watch his wonderful talk. Below, check out four of Maeda’s many works that explore the intersection of technology, art and design.

Commute (2003)
This Technicolor image was created for Maeda’s exhibition, FOOD, and it is made out of Jell-O. Writes Maeda on his website, “Jell-O comes in every color of the rainbow, and I made a Jell-O mold of true spectral perfection (except with incorrect spectral order). I wrote a program to correct the problem and that result is gently overlaid.”

Text squeezer (2007)
Texting is all about shorthand. In this project, Maeda programmed a tool that allows you to type in a sentence, and have it reduced to only its first letters. From there, you can reduce the type further and further, even to a single letter. Play with it on Maeda’s website.

Robotic Drawing (2003)
For an exhibit at the Cristinerose Gallery in 2003, Maeda programmed a robot to draw doodles. See a video of the robot at work on Maeda’s website.


Oikake Zakura (1998)
Maeda created this game for the Japanese beauty brand, Shiseido. To play, head to Maeda’s website and press “start.” Then, try your hand at sweeping up the flower petals.

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To read much more about the thoughts behind Maeda’s work, pick up one of his wonderful books — Creative Code (2005) and Redesigning Leadership (2011). And also make sure to watch his other brilliant TEDTalks, “John Maeda on his journey in design” and “John Maeda: Designing for simplicity.”