John Maeda and his Electric Dots

“During the day, on a completely black surface, a white dot appears like a bright star of hope. As night falls, attempts to resuscitate the star with liberal amounts of white paint inevitably lose to the will of nature. The light of fire enables us to see after the sun has hidden, but its roar and crackle continually warn us of its immediate hunger for fuel. Our uneasiness has been resolved for the present by removing the flame from plain sight, fire, heat, and fission translate to electrical power. Transported through a giant maze of mostly hidden cables, it eventually reaches us through an unassuming two- or three-prong jack in the wall. Fed through a mating plug, electricity flows directly into an exposed filament that is safely enclosed in glass that begins to glow – thus the miracle of the light bulb, an electric dot impervious to night and irrespective of white pigment.

Elsewhere, another plug mates and a significantly more complicated process forces a beam of electrons onto a plate of glass covered with a chemical that glows when energized, resulting in the mass production of bright electric dots that illuminate the otherwise invisible mind of the computer.”

Meet John Maeda. Maeda is a digital artist who creates elaborate and beautiful pieces, or what he calls “eye meat” (as opposed to eye candy), via computer programming. Maeda’s visuals tell stories like how much money is spent on the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology vs. Cleanup of radioactive waste + the cost to maintain US nuclear warheads.  His art sell products like Absolut, Shiseido, Reebok, Sony and magazines. And more often than not, his stuff  just looks really cool.

John Maeda Shisheido  John Maeda flags John Maeda Mori Maeda NYT cover

The quote leading in this post is from his ©2000 book of digital collections called Maeda @ Maeda. The fact that this book is now 13 years old is completely irrelevant – the inspiration for those of us who appreciate beautiful creations stemming from data and algorthims is not at all lost, even in an age when “digital art” of the 1990’s could easily be laughable work today. And the stories he tells throughout the book are as weird and fascinating as the quote above, from page 1 to 480. Watch all 11 minutes of this TED talk on designing for simplicity to get a sense of the complexity of the constant shifting and mixing of left brain and right brain in the stories he tells back-to-back without taking a breath.

For those of us crawling out of geekdom and into content marketing, for those of us who want to create the next great visual piece for our clients, for those of us who aspire to tear down the walls between SEO and traditional marketing and storytelling, John Maeda should be one of the bright stars of hope. His work is an inspiration for what can be done when algorithms and art come together. Get that book, browse the random pieces he creates, and get inspired.

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