September 05, 2014

ASCII design

Design and technology have been combined for a long time. Credit: design en ascii / Flickr Creative Commons

Big, beige, boxy.

The gadgets of the past probably weren't the most visually interesting — but what mattered was inside, the technology that no one had ever seen before.
 
“Technology used to be the only reason you’d buy a high tech gadget. You wanted to know what was in it,” says John Maeda, a design partner at Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm that’s backed companies like Amazon and Google.
 
Maeda, who's an award-winning designer, has a foot in both the artistic and technological worlds. He’s the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, but he also studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and worked in the MIT Media Lab (now run by Joi Ito).

It's a combination that makes him particularly well suited to today's tech landscape — and that's drawn him a huge following in Silicon Valley (and on Twitter, of course).

“It used to be only a few people could make these things [gadgets], but now, everyone can make these things. So design’s become a differentiator."
 
But distinguishing between types of design is crucial, Maeda notes. There’s surface design - the sleek silver or candy-colored cases - and there’s deeper design.
 
“Real great design,” says Maeda,” isn’t about the wow effect, it’s about the after wow effect. You buy it, you bring it home, and after a month you’re like, wow.”

Tech companies themselves used to think of design as an afterthought, but up-and-coming businesses are starting to fully integrate programmers and artistic types.

Snapchat - which Kleiner Perkins recently invested in - is an example of a company that placed design at the core of a product. Its founders realized that people want an app that deletes messages soon after they're opened, reducing tech clutter in much the same way you might reduce clutter in your closet.

“In the past, you’d have technologists make a product and add design. Snapchat was done by hybrid people, people who design and code, so the concept is embedded in the technology.”

In late October, John Maeda (and we at Innovation Hub) will head to Camden, Maine for the annual PopTech conference. There, he hopes to think creatively about the future - what trends are shaping our world, where technology is headed, and how it's changing us as people.

Kleiner Perkins, RISD, John Maeda, Culture, design, gadgets, apps

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