Togo Kida
Togo Kida
Jul 19 · 4 min read
The meaning of design updates itself as technology advances.

John Maeda. He is known as one of the most influential designers in our time and well known for being the harbinger of computation design while he was leading Aesthetics Computation Group(ACG) and Physical Language Workshop(PLW) at the MIT Media Lab.

Many of his former students such as Casey Reas and Ben Fry came of out his group and has done influential work. Since I was an undergraduate student, John Maeda has been my legend and I have been heavily influenced by his thoughts and his work.

To be honest, I really much wanted to go to his group and study under him, but given various circumstances, I wasn’t able to take the necessary action to enable that, which leads to where I am right now.

This book by John Maeda has been my bible.

Anyway, after graduating from UCLA, I started working at an advertising agency in Tokyo and became very busy and lost track of John Maeda’s work.

If I remember correctly, around 2007 he was working on a project to build a social network that relates creativity and economy at PLW. I also remember him getting his MBA. For me, connecting design with business was a novel notion, and I was excited, but as I wrote, my new job in Tokyo made me occupied and I wasn’t able to follow him closely.

Fast forward 10+ years… Recently, I had the blessing to follow his output once again. It’s the Design in Tech Report he publishes every year. As a graduate student studying design and technology in a multi-faceted environment, his reports are highly suggestive.

The Title Slide of Design in Tech Report 2019

Computational design is something that originally started from Muriel Cooper who was running the Visual Language Workshop at MIT. The domain grew even bigger through numerous legends such as John Maeda, and also by Ben Fry and Casey Reas who developed Processing. Architecture has also worked a lot with computational design in order to study the best structure design of a building.

So for me, when it comes to computation design, my understanding was it’s a way to design things parametrically. However, looking at John Maeda’s Design in Tech Report, I feel that the notion has changed a little.

In his recent reports, John Maeda wrote the following:

“There are three kinds of design. Classical Design, Design Thinking, and Computational Design.”

This categorization was surprising. When people talk about design thinking, a lot of them say design thinking is dubious because all the methodologies look fancy, the output result is fairly mediocre. With regards to computational design, I personally thought that this would be under the category of classical design, which John Maeda mentions.

However, that is not the case. John Maeda is saying that they are all different. When you start to think about it in his way, a lot of things start to make sense. When you consider other people saying design thinking is dubious in John Maeda’s context, you realize that this claim is invalid. Since they are different design domains, you shouldn’t confound these domains, and that is probably where the mistake starts. You should rather consider as different games here.

Looking at John Maeda’s report, I cannot stop thinking of how design is a vast yet deep discipline. The meaning of design is changing over the course of time.

Let me get back to computation design. There are numerous definitions of computational design according to many people, but what is John Maeda saying? This is what he wrote:

Design for billions of individual people and in real time, is at scale and TBD.

With regards to what pushes the domain of computation design, he also wrote the following:

Driver: the impact of Moore’s Law, mobile computing, and the latest tech paradigms.”

When he mentions Moore’s Law, I think he is talking about the computing power necessary to operate on huge data. I believe John Maeda is making a very important point here.

As I wrote, I personally regarded as using programming and parametric methods to achieve a certain type of design. But it’s not.

John Maeda has made a point that computation design is actually about utilizing the power of computation against big data finding context, and the working on a design activity.

Slight change of topic, there is an article that I’d like to share here. It is an article written by Andrej Karpathy, an AI director at Tesla. In this article, he mentions the notion of “Software 2.0.”

He basically anticipates in the future that, as there are more and more data available for the AI, instead of manually coding logic for the computer, we would gather data to create a software that behaves in a certain way.

I think what John Maeda is mentioning with regards to computation design is close to this article When humans are confronted with an unprecedented amount of data that we almost cannot consume, what becomes the role of a designer?

Reading John Maeda’s Design in Tech Report made me feel that a new domain in design is just about to emerge, and I feel I’m being part of something truly groundbreaking.


My stories at Harvard University studying Design Engineering as a Fulbright Scholar. (This is a loose English version of neurotogo, my other publication.)

Togo Kida

Written by

Togo Kida

UCLA Design | Media Arts → Dentsu Lab Tokyo → Harvard University Design Engineering / Creative Technologist / Fulbright Scholar / Media Art / Tech / Marketing



My stories at Harvard University studying Design Engineering as a Fulbright Scholar. (This is a loose English version of neurotogo, my other publication.)

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