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Session Name: How Moore’s Law is Influencing Design
Thank you, Rob. Just a reminder, speaking of glasses, you designers if you are not wearing your black-rimmed glasses, we’re going to have to ask you to leave. If you didn’t bring a pair, we’ll provide one for you but you guys know the drill. Coming up next, this guy spoke last year. He’s John Maeda. He’s the president of The Rhode Island School of Design and he killed last year. He was hands down one of the favorite talks people gave. We’re really excited to have him back. Please give a warm round of applause for Mr. John Maeda, president of Rhode Island School of Design.
Thank you. Hello.
You’re here. Thank you. I just had a moment backstage where I was really jealous of all of you, not for what you have in your hands, et cetera, but just being in this, getting to see Robert and all the speakers that are coming. I remembered how when I was a technologist 20 years ago, having no idea what design was and to get to learn design that feels pretty cool so I was jealous. I wish I was here 20 years later but that can’t do that. Because 20 years ago I was trying to understand design. I learned about design from a guy named Paul Rand. I bought one of his books. I didn’t know what it meant so I went to art school to study design. Design’s really confusing in the old way. There’s everything. There’s form follows function, function follows form. There’s all these people that were the touring of that era in design. I really struggled to figure it out. The one thing that I did come upon was how design and computing didn’t really connect at all, that this thing called computation and design didn’t really fit so well together, so I focused a lot on that, in that era. Because PostScript was out I began to write code to create images and this is when I was in art school in 1991. I was trying to reconcile two books – The List Machine Manual with the nice Helvetica cover, with the Bauhaus Book, also a Helvetica cover. I was trying to do a peanut butter and chocolate move to figure out how to make a Reese’s moment.
I began to make things like this to understand the computer. I took my mouse and glued every icon from Photoshop and everything to understand the mouse because the mouse seemed so simple, but it’s actually so complex. It does so many things. It’s very deceptive. When I was listening to Robert backstage, I was thinking about how when he was saying about fashion, I realized that design is both superficial and substantive at the same time. You have these crossing of moments that makes design hard to make happen and also hard to understand, but when it clicks it feels really good. I would make many things for different clients in Japan, Shiseido, Sony, places like that in the 90s, to try to understand how to mix these two things together. Didn’t turn out right all the time, but thanks to the Web it became useful and interesting to more people.
The problem with making things with a computer in the 90s was people would always call me the eye candy guy. Eye candy, it’s pejorative. Candy – candy, sweet, not important. Eyes, you make things that aren’t very useful. It hurt me. I said instead, I make eye meat. It’s more substantial. But when I said this, I wasn’t sure what that meant myself and I tried to go on a journey to figure out what eye meat was. This was the 90s and I had a bunch of great professors and they all told me that I would never know if I’m any good or not if I didn’t make people who could do the same thing, who could mix design and technology, code and design. I joined the faculty at the MIT Media Lab in the 90s and began a hunt for people that could do both. Now I know there’s terminology for the both people. They’re the unicorns. They’re the artists who can code. I was hunting unicorns on the Web all the time. “Hey, want to come to MIT Graduate School free?” Really? I also find ninjas. Ninjas are the coders who are artists also. I would hunt for unicorns and ninjas as my main focus, bringing together people that could code and do art and make it like it’s a natural thing, which today as we know it’s very normal.
What happened is, as I was making all this stuff, cross art and design technology and engineering, I was at this conference where I spoke after a very famous illustrator in his 70s, one of America’s most important illustrator, New Yorker covers, things like that. His work was beautiful. He sat down, we all applauded. I got up, I showed my computer things and I sat down. They’re all applauding for me, and then this man leans over to me and whispers, and he says to me, “Your work is beautiful but it is so empty.” Everyone’s applauding for me and this guy says my work’s empty. I thought about that, and I thought what did he mean? I thought about it really seriously and I realized that a lot of my work was trying to understand this intersection of technology and art, just trying to figure this intersection out. What is technology’s relationship to art? I realized that a lot of what was empty about it was I wasn’t thinking about that all important word empathy, which grounds all of design, all of art, people, because empathy is not about technology, it’s about people.
I was reading that great book by David and Tom Kelley, the new book called Creative Confidence, and there’s a little section about a professor at Stanford, Dan Rome, who talks about people who say they can’t draw. They can draw, draw people. He says there’s three kinds of people you can draw and this blew away my mind. He said that you can draw stick people, and stick people are useful for showing emotional state – happy, sad, angry – because they have a big face like Charlie Brown. You can also draw block people, and block people, their face isn’t the main thing. Their body is the main thing. They’re doing something – they’re fishing, they’re running, they’re hiking, their body is in the foreground. Lastly if you draw blob people, you’re drawing little groups of people, little societies, relationships. These kinds of three people are easy to draw. I realized that that’s the three kinds of design that underlie what I think we call experience design today. In a sense the action world is a world of body. It’s the old school world – the world of metal, plastic, wood, the ancient way of the Eames design, paper, printmaking – all of that is the world of the body. It is where you see full action in art and design schools.
In emotional space you see the world of the CogSci approach interface. Because we don’t use our body very much, we twitch our fingers around to see that portal happen in front of us. It’s changing how we think. There’s a world of the mind in design. There’s a world of relationships, the world of people. Now we’re interconnected. This is more of the Facebook, social media world where suddenly we can now connect to other people. That’s a new kind of design as well. These three kinds of designs all have different expertises. One is physically based, one is digitally based, and one is social based. It’s the convergence of these three kinds of design that are causing so much opportunity but also so much confusion, because in a sense these three began with two. We began with computers intersecting with the physical world. That was much of the 90s and the early 2000s. There were schools that were pushing this, whether it’s MIT or RISD or RCA places knew how to combine these two together and then the social aspect came in. The Harvard, Stanfords became irrelevant. D-school thinking brings in this organizational view. These three are coming together, and they’re trying real hard.
If there’s a fourth school out there, I think it is the NYU-ITP school. Just on Saturday there was a service for this woman, Red Burns. It was a tribute for her. Who knew Red Burns in this audience? If you don’t know Red Burns please Google her. I think she was probably the most important person to bring together these three spaces of design. Red’s whole take was you don’t really do technology. You do the human thing and technology gets added in. She would always say think of technology as a verb not a noun. It provides the tools; creative people provide imagination. She was always people-centric, empathy-centric, never clock speed-centric, never bandwidth-centric. That perspective has been extremely sturdy and I come back to it all the time in my work today, thanks to Red, because if you do the Google word define thing, you look up the word technology, you get this graph and it shows you that technology is a buzzword we’ve been using recently in the last 50 years. If you look at the root of the word technology it is the word art. If you look at the word art, and you look at how it’s been used over time, it’s been very constant and also the origin of art is the word art. It’s wonderfully recursive in that way.
Art and technology are intertwined forever. Technology comes from art. How do you reconnect with art, I believe is the question today. Today we see art all the time. It’s in a different form or variant. It’s design, where technology and art collide. It’s everywhere. People who don’t understand design don’t understand it because it’s everywhere, so hard to see. It’s like we’re fish trying to see water. If you think about– this is my office at RISD. Look at the chair. I know it’s been designed by my friend in Tokyo. If I look at the lights they’re fancy light designed. If I look at the book design, if I look at the print designs on my wall, if I look at the computers that have been designed. I can see the table’s been designed. I can see that the carpet has been designed, and all of the things on the walls have been designed. Everything I’m seeing is designed. Everything we see is designed. You go outside, and the same thing happens usually. This is outside my office at RISD. The car’s been designed, the light fixture has been designed, but not just that one – all of the light fixtures have been designed. The facade of the building has been designed – actually, all facades and all buildings have been designed. Everything has been designed except for the sky.
If you go into nature it’s the one place where you don’t find design because nature designed that. That gives you a sense of design is everywhere, but how do you make that useful? How do you take design and do something with it? A lot of the work I see today around design is a question of making details, making details. The word design includes the word sign, making signs, making them, destroying them. I’m a big believer in details and signs. If you think about, on any given page or any given moment, there are commas everywhere. We ignore them so easily, but commas are amazing. This is just a sample of a few commas magnified up. You’re like, whoa, that comma’s beautiful. You would never notice it. People have spent a long time on these commas.
What is that? That’s not my music. That was a bonus music track from somewhere. Thank you for that. Excited now. It had just snowed, and the snow was melting in my neighborhood. I noticed that there were commas everywhere. There was a comma there. I saw a comma on the ground just left there by nature. I also found melted on the grass leftover commas. I found other punctuation marks. I found a few exclamation points like this. There were several. My favorite one was this question mark, because I believe that art is about the question. We’re always asking questions. What is the question? The question is Moore’s Law. We heard of it from Robert’s presentation. Moore’s Law influences design? Yeah, but not as much as before. If you think about Moore’s Law, this wonderful mathematical concept of the doubling of transistors every 18 months, I drew a graph like this. It’s amazing, keeps on doubling. It keeps on doubling and the scale keeps changing. If you think about the same time the oddity that this is linear over log scale, if you think of the oddity that price keeps falling per transistors, doesn’t make any sense. Imagine a car that got faster every 18 months and cost half the price. It doesn’t make any sense. In the transistor world, it does, which has been odd.
Just thinking about capability versus cost, and thinking about how over time – at MIT I experienced this. I first worked on a connection machine, and thinking machine-connection machine era the PC was this puny mosquito-like machine, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “You puny thing.” Over time the world changed. You didn’t have to have a Cessna, a Lamborghini, SGI-Onyx, SGI-Octane. These kinds of computers were getting smaller and faster and powerful and the PC was a meager thing. I remember in 2001 at MTI was happened is more and more students would bring their computer to school and it was better than the computers that we had at MIT. It kept changing. That PC was eating up everything. It was just as important, if not more important. That world didn’t make much sense.
There was this whole era at the same time in 2002 of ubiquitous computing, remember a computer in everything? In a chair, in your watch, in your clothes, in your body. It was everywhere in 2002. We lost sight of it because this thing called the iPod appeared. This iPod thing’s more important than ubiquitous computing. This diverted our attention but also helped us see something today in consumer technology, that we live in an era where this has all happened, and now we can buy anything we want. We can have as much technology as want. When we think about the model that has the most gigabytes, we don’t want it as much anymore. I used to want it. I don’t want it anymore because more technology as better was the easy thing. You’d buy the thing with the more gigahertz. Now, Moore’s Law, this idea that more is better, doesn’t mean as much. With good design, more is not better. With good design, this weird thing happens where less equals more, and I used to hate being told this because I had no idea what that means. Less– if I have one cookie versus a lot of cookies, I want more cookies. What do you mean less is more?
The way to understand this is the following: if you offer a child a big cookie versus a little cookie, which cookie will they choose? They want the big cookie. It’s the good one. If you offer a child two piles of laundry to fold which will they choose? They’ll choose the smaller pile. Wait a second, doesn’t make any sense. But it does. The more and less thing is complex. You want more when you get to enjoy more. You want less when you have to work more. It’s very simple that way. Design balances those two things together. Design was always working before computers emerged, and now that computers don’t have that same impact on our experience, what’s happened is this this ability for design to balance desirability has changed. What’s happened is that now because of technology, we want more technology. We used to want everything. More technology made things easier because it would always be better. If I wait 18 months it’ll be more useful. If I wait 18 months it’s going to be amazing. I’m going to love it more. This is the way things were for so long. If you had more technology, you were happier, better designed. You never thought about design actually.
What’s happened now is that technology is still important, but what’s happened it’s become less important. Design can be more visible again. It isn’t that design is coming out of nowhere. Design has always been there. Design is how we balance this less is more equation. It’s a human equation. There’s a mathematical relationship. It’s complex. As my HR person likes to say, “It depends.” It depends, which makes it maddening sometimes. That’s what makes it very human and interesting and worthwhile to pursue. I was just talking to someone and someone was saying, “Is there a design bubble? There’s a design bubble out there. It’s growing and growing, growing,” and I think my response was very simple. It was, “Actually, there’s no design bubble. There’s a design bowling ball.” What does that mean? It means that it’s always been there. It didn’t suddenly appear and it’s growing out of nowhere. Design has been ever-present in our world, and designers know how to use that. Technology has now balanced out with where designers can now have a bigger role in it. In the old days you’d have two technologists would hire a businessperson half a designer. Now you have a world where you hire, where two designers will hire a technologist and a half a businessperson. That shift is occurring only because the balance and the force has now been maintained. Design is coming back. We can all see it now in these three spaces of design.
I have one minute left. Thank you.