John Maeda is an American technologist and product experience leader with a passion for RESILIENCE and renewal. He began his early career at MIT at the intersection of computer science and visual design, and served there as Professor of Design and Computation and as Head of Research at the MIT MediaLab. He was a design partner at Kleiner Perkins, held leadership positions with Automattic, the parent company of, and served as president of the Rhode Island School of Design. He is currently serving as Chief Technology Officer of Everbridge.


John has been described by The New York Times as "an anomaly in the art world — a prize-winning graphic designer and kinetic artist with a fistful of engineering degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology". He has also been recognized by Esquire as one of the "75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century", and his gorgeous design in tech and resilience in tech reports are a beloved annual ritual for many.




In this conversation we talk about:

  • How he started his journey working at his parents' tofu shop in Seattle.
  • Getting his first Apple computer.
  • Why his mother was his first VC.
  • The difference between good and bad teachers.
  • His journey from engineering school at MIT to art school.
  • The need for creatives to understand money, and how money works.
  • Teaching at the famous MIT MediaLab.
  • And growing the people that will end up destroying you professionally.


We also discuss:

  • Being a "humanist technologist" and what it means.
  • Issues of complexity and simplicity.
  • Why he's quoted as saying, "Design is not that important".
  • Is design useful and in what way?
  • How to speak machine.
  • And many other topics.


We spoke in late July 2022, and I was excited to talk to John because he's a prolific and fascinating author, teacher, and communicator in the realm of design. I loved his design and tech reports while in Kleiner Perkins and enjoyed his voice on Twitter.


John made many good points about complexity and simplicity, the role of a good teacher, and much more. But what stayed with me is his vision of the computer as a new alien species. And the importance of seeing technology with fresh and wondering eyes. It's only in this way that we can understand the radical newness of what we're living through.


This conversation is one of a dozen or so weekly conversations we already have lined up for you with thinkers, designers, makers, authors, and entrepreneurs who are working to change our world for the better. So follow this podcast on your favorite podcast app, or head over to to subscribe.


And now, let's jump right in with John Maeda.




[4:38] Life in the Present

[5:45] Early Childhood Design

[8:53] An Interest in Engineering

[11:03] An Academic Journey

[17:46] Building Startups

[20:30] A Humanist Technologist

[28:23] Simplicity and Complexity

[33:04] Understanding Design

[41:56] How to Speak Machine

[50:34] How to Speak Risk

[54:48] A Short Sermon