• Matt AchariamMatt Achariam, 8 years ago (edited 8 years ago )

    Hello John, it’s great to have you with us today. Most of us have heard you speak with candor and insight into the field of design. I’d like to start this AMA with a few pertinent questions.

    1. You’ve been a big proponent of encouraging designers to take on more challenging leadership roles. How did you arrive at this notion and why do you feel it is more important now?
    2. Your career arc has seen you touch almost every facet of design. What were your biggest stumbling blocks and where do you think needs the most work?
    5 points
    • John MaedaJohn Maeda, 8 years ago

      Thanks for these good starter questions, Matt.

      In answer to your first question:

      Designers (and engineers) tend to be makers. And especially as individual contributor makers, you tend to live inside your "mental palace" (a term used in the BBC's excellent Sherlock Holmes show). I lived a life as a software engineer, and as a graphic designer. I never had to lead a team for most of my early life. I loved making, and didn't really have to do any talking. While my work was picking up steam in Japan, I had this producer. Mr. Naomi Enami. He would do all the talking for me. And I would do the making.

      One day there was this conference that I was presenting at -- and Mr. Enami suggested that I go to the after-party and talk to people. I said, "no" -- I just want to go back to my room and make things. He looked at me a bit sternly, and said in Japanese, "Mr. Maeda. Making relationships is just as important as making software or making design." I of course didn't listen to him, and just stayed in my room and went back to coding things. A few weeks after that happening, Mr. Enami went into a coma. It was at that point I realized that nobody would talk for me. And that I'd have to talk for myself. It was in the early 90s. I made a choice to become a talker (versus just a maker). And I've endeavored to make as often as I can along the way.

      Regarding your second question:

      By no means have I touched all facets of design. By coming to Silicon Valley I've been humbled by the enormous expertise in this region for designing interactive experiences at the scale of millions of users. If anything I believe that my biggest stumbling block was not living in this region before saying anything about design and technology. The technologies being managed and developed in Silicon Valley are a few orders of magnitude more complex than I had ever imagined. And the designers and engineers and product people I see here are pushing the envelope of what is really, really hard to imagine and make into a reality. So I guess you could say I'm trying to address my biggest stumbling block by living my professional life here right now.

      16 points