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John Maeda’s simple talk

John Maeda is a brilliant designer who’s known for his art, which lives on the border between simplicity and complexity. Simplicity has been his recent focus, resulting in a book called “The Laws of Simplicity”. He asks whether we’re really dumb about technology – as we see in books like “Internet for Dummies” – oe whether things aren’t simple enough. He gives a very funny series of photos that show how simplicity has stalked him during the course of the book, including by Paris Hilton’s “The Simple Life”

Maeda isn’t a man of simplicity, he tells us – he’s known for creating “eye candy”, like his 1997 java-based calendars for Shisedo. He’d prefer to think of himself as making “eye meat” – something more substantive. Some recent eye meat is a lovely series of sculptures, which use and abuse old computers in fascinating ways, like wiring a IR mouse to receive input from a CRT, building a self-drawing machine. Lately, he’s obsessed with food – which he considers a reaction to 9/11, which has included making art from clementine skins, scans of french fries and making butterflies out of snack food. (He points out that you can do this sort of thing if you’re a tenured professor.)

According to John’s new book, simplicity has ten laws and three keys. The laws are designed to be challenging, “like uni in sushi” – he tells us we’ll especially hate #10. Simplicity is designed to give us “the bigger cookie” – more enjoyment and less pain.

He leaves us with some thoughts on ageing – our brain strength increases until age sixty, then drops off. Physical strength peaks at 36, visual acuity at around 24 (when we choose a mate.) Social responsibility is at its peak when we’re parenting. But perhaps we can hope for wisdom to peak at our death…