Discussion with John Maeda of RISD: What Is Design

John Maeda, now president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) had a public, semi-moderated discussion with me at a PARC Forum. The video is now available.

It was a weird discussion. Although John and I have known each other for some time and started out in similar ways (he is a course 6 graduate of MIT -- Electrical Engineering). So am I (my specialty was circuit design.) Both of us now consider ourselves to be designers. Moreover, I am a fan of his work. But it was difficult to engage.

I wanted to talk about complex design: interaction design, design planning, etc. He wanted to talk about the beauty of fonts, of knives, and even of the office chair. I tried to say these were simple products that barely needed any understanding of human behavior and cognition -- I want to design the complex. He didn't understand my point. In fact, when I specifically asked him how to design a networking connection scheme that would work for everyday people his answer was a long ramble that never even started to address the issue. Later, he admitted he had forgotten the question (which to me is evidence he either failed to understand it or didn't care about it - I think the latter).

I agreed that form was not my focus. I guess he agreed that interaction was not his.

So we failed to connect. But many seemed to find the discussion of interest. Decide for yourself.

Here is one reviewers comments: Janaki Kumar of SAP (Palo Alto).

And here is what an email correspondent told me:

"I watched your talk with John Maeda.  Somewhat disappointing.  You looked a bit perplexed at best.  He did not answer your question.   There were two discussions going on - but not well linked.  I guess service design, addressing complex problems holistically with people at the center, and other stretching design topics will not be taught at RISD anytime soon."