Design Indaba: Interview with John Maeda, president RISD

ARTS THREAD interviews John Maeda, artist, graphic designer, computer scientist and president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) at Design Indaba 2013.

A speaker on Day 1 of the Design Indaba Conference, John’s key project at RISD is to add art and design into the tight coterie of STEM education in the US (to create STEAM). STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

ARTS THREAD: Do you feel that the STEM to STEAM project has relevance to countries outside the US?

JOHN MAEDA: Yes, STEM to STEAM is picking up in America, we have 11 states on board, and in the world today, a lot of interest. I found an interest in the UK, in China, Japan and in Turkey, so it’s all coming together. People know that STEM in important for innovation but Art is important to keep it desirable.

AT: And practically, how do you see it implemented in other countries?

JM: All those countries are desiring to develop better, more desirable products and services and they are now seeing that just having the technology is not a differentiating factor. Things like art and design help you differentiate. (Like your glasses for instance. I could buy black glasses but not those glasses, so it appeals to what you’re looking for). A good example is Apple, a STEAM-based company. They took a STEM product like an MP3 player and made it desirable through art and design.

AT: Another question, what is the best advice you could give to graduate students of design?

JM: I think that the only advice I could give to students right now, especially students coming from art and design, is to study copyright law and the implications of that, because it affects their profession, digitally and in the analogue world. The second place is to study emerging business models in the first world and the third world, because the way people do design is changing.

AT: Design students generally strive to stand out, to come up with something new and different. What are your views on innovation?

JM: I think that there’s always something new compared to what exists because the world gets bored very quickly. So yes, it might be old but because people haven’t heard of it in recent years, it becomes new again. So I’m not so down on ‘innovation’, because I’m not such a believer that everything is new. Everything is ‘new’ at the right time.

AT: So what can a young designer do to stand out?

JM: Study history because there’s a lot of ‘new’ stuff in history to find again.

AT: Thank you!


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