Jason Mayden has lived many lives. Starting as Nike’s first Black industrial design intern, he went on to become lead designer of the Jordan brand, launch his own children’s shoe label Superheroic, serve as interim president for the launch of Fear of God’s athletic wear, and land as CEO of the design collective Trillicon Valley.
On top of all of that, he’s one of the proudest fathers I’ve ever met, and our conversations over the years have centered as much around his children as his professional projects. So it is of little surprise that Mayden has published his first children’s book: A Kids Book About Design.
The book is part of a larger series of “empowering kids books” from the imprint A Kids Company About. The series addresses a wide array of topics including gender, voting, autism, and money. When the team reached out to Mayden to pen a book on design, he saw the opportunity as a natural fit.
“The beautiful thing about children is it doesn’t take much for them to understand how to operate as a designer, because they’ve been able to leverage make-believe, which is essentially the same tool we use as designers when putting together mood boards and customer journeys,” Mayden says. “Children do that every single time they pick up an inanimate object and give it life.”
Over the course of 62 pages, Mayden uses bright typography to tell his own story, starting with his childhood when he was fighting a blood infection in the hospital. He leveraged that terrible moment to dive into his own imagination. From there, the story slowly unrolls into an explainer on design, breaking down tricky concepts like inclusive design, while giving an overview of all the ways design impacts everything from education to policy. In this sense, the children’s book treatment works very well in outlining the scope of design while explaining concepts “like I’m five.” It’s the perfect short read for adults, even if the story is written for kids.
“We’ve beaten this word ‘innovation’ into the ground. I don’t think people understand the true definition of innovation, which is discovery,” says Mayden. “I hope to engender the spirit of discovery in the next generation.”
Mayden’s foray into children’s publishing is part of a wider goal to pay it forward in the design world. As a wee Chicago south sider, he was inspired to become a designer when reading Batman issue #307, as he saw Dr. Lucius Fox on the page for the first time. Fox is the Black businessman and inventor who does everything from helping construct the Batcave to providing Batman’s various gadgets—all while saving Bruce Wayne’s failing business and convincing him to invest into philanthropy.
“I realize there’s some kid out there who will see similarities in my story . . . and it could be the thing that changes their life. I take that seriously, because I didn’t have a technical, creative leadership image that existed in the world of design,” Mayden says. “I’ve made it a point to become the real life Lucius Fox, so it’s no longer a myth you can come from where I came from, and do what I’ve done.”