"John Maeda is a visionary," says Paul Warwick Thompson, director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. "He is fundamentally changing the way we think about design." More to the point, Maeda is fundamentally changing the way MIT's renowned Media Lab thinks about technology.
For Maeda, who has devoted his career to making technology more human, the magic word is "simplicity." The lab's new research agenda, which he rolled out in a two-day conference this past March, is called simply that. Maeda wants to rewind "overfeaturized" tech tools back to version 1.0, and make them seamless and intuitive. Maeda's vision finds its purest expression in his open-source infrastructure for creativity on the Web—a kind of Linux for art tools—in which the browser becomes a global hub for editing, annotating, and sharing digital media. He expects that one day it will fuel a vast, online marketplace for the creative arts. It's all part of Maeda's ultimate mission: to put the soul of the artist into the science of digital design.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.