Read an Excerpt
At the age of sixteen I was determined to be an artist. My determination helped convince my high school to accept art as a substitute for athletics. My father was less easily convinced and suggested that I attend MIT, because I had scored the highest possible mark on my college entrance exams for math. The idea was that I should study architecture, because it was a blend of my two childhood skills. I was not convinced. I shared my dilemma with the headmaster, who told me the following story: "I like grey suits and I like pinstriped suits, but I don't necessarily like grey pinstriped suits." What kind of advice was that? I ignored it and attended architecture school anyway, which was a fine education, one I would not trade back had I to do it all over again. My engineering classmates learned how to solve problems, I learned how to ask questions.
One question was how to change the world. A well designed building here and there was an unlikely means, except in history books. But designing the tools designers would use felt like a lot more leverage. And, MIT being the birthplace of computer graphics, I was brought quickly to the idea of computer-aided design, under the influence of a self-made mathematician named Steve Coons.
Steve had figured out how to mathematically "loft" ships and airplanes (the long gentle curves which literally required lofts to be laid out and drawn at full scale) on a standard size sheet of paper. Believe me, in the 1960s, bringing computers and design together required pure faith, because the two seemed to bring out the worst in each other. Furthermore, the intellectual space itself seemed to be fully occupied by either failed artists or failed scientists. For the next thirty years, the signature of the machine was invariably stronger than the humans. Witness the near irrelevance to date of computer art -- all those unseemly pinstriped suits.
This is changing for many reasons, three of which are germane to this book: visual thinking, graphical expression, and simplicity.
Visual thinking is more a part of our lives than ever before. The personal computer, the Internet, and modern-day printers bring us into regular contact with drawings, diagrams, and photographs. Increasingly, we make or process them ourselves. Children manipulate lines, shapes, color, as well as still and moving images, like no generation before. We're not only digital, we're visual.
Graphic design is emerging as an every-day tool for communications. After a period of graphical cacophony, which resulted from limitless options (fonts and layout galore), we have entered into a period of far more subtle design, constrained by the continuing need to inform. Making things quick and easy to understand is a requirement, now more than ever.
Besides, we're all fed up with complexity. Software has turned into a compost heap of useless options, expired releases and nonsensical interfaces. In fact, computers have become harder to use in recent years, not easier. They're also less reliable.
We've all had enough of this. It is time to rethink our digital world and to listen to new voices. John Maeda is one of them. He deconstructs the digital world with the earned authority of an M.I.T.-trained computer scientist and a card-carrying artist. Being ambidextrous with Eastern and Western cultures, he can see things most of us overlook. The result is a humor and expression that brings out the best in computers and art, and in so doing-in my mind-is the grey pinstriped suit we have all been looking for.