John Maeda

SYMMETRY. Visual canon by translation. Two copies of the same design, with one translated to the right, overlap to spell JOHN MAEDA. Move your mouse left and right to see how the design combines with itself.

INSPIRATION. For John Maeda, MIT Media Lab professor and pioneering visual artist. His piece Tap, Type, Write appears in the art exhibit 010101: Art in Technological Times.

STORY. With a background in both engineering and graphic design, John Maeda has pioneered a new direction in graphic design that takes full advantage of the algorithmic power of computers. Not content to use canned software packages, he writes his own compact code to create interactive masterpieces like Tap, Type, Write, an homage to the typewriter as seen through the eyes of the digital era. His work is both minimal and humane, sophisticated and child-like, a balance struck by Maeda's graphic design hero Paul Rand. When I first met him five years ago at the Media Lab he seemed bothered that more artists were not pursuing this direction. By now he seems to have attracted quite a following.You can learn more about Maeda's work through his web site, and his retrospective book maeda@media.

I've admired Maeda's work ever since learning about him five years ago. When I saw Tap, Type, Write at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art I wanted to create a design on his name. I could have created a simple rotation inversion, but that seemed inadequate. I wanted to do something more specific to Maeda's propensity for digital media.
     I wrote his name in low-resolution pixels. Then I noticed that the initial J was part of the second letter O. This led quickly to create a canon by translation, a thorny algorithmically-minded technique I have used only a few times in the past. For this sort of design to work, the last letter needs to be entirely contained within the second to last letter — I was pleased this works well with lowercase D and A.
     Notice that the first five letters are perfectly split into two disjoint sets of pixels. The pixels of O that are not part of J become part of H, and so on. After M the division is not so clean: the parts that overlap to make the final A, E, and D share pixels. The overall design makes a satisfying arch, with an extra-wide capital M iin the middle, all created naturally by the demands of the symmetry.

Copyright 2001 Scott Kim.
All rights reserved.