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Interview: John Maeda

Tuesday 8 July 2008, by Thibault Choay

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Interview with the impressive scientist and graphic designer responsible for the most amazing Reebok models lately.

This guy is the genius !


How did it all start with Reebok ?
Before making the Ventilator Timetanium in 2007, I was already looking for an industrial partner in order to co-produce detox products. I had no particular idea about the field of activity I wanted to be involved in, I just had this constant thought. And I have to admit, Reebok was only 20 minutes away from my place then ! But we immediately found out we had the same idea and philosophy about industrial productions. So we had a common base and we started to build around.

We all know you are a scientist and a graphic designer as well as an artist and that you teach at the MIT...
Actually I don’t teach there anymore... I was recently promoted President of the Rhode Island School of Design. So I am still learning !

How did you come up with this idea of maths applied to graphic design instead of providing an all ready-made artwork ?
Maths are the DNA of the graphics when it comes to computer assisted images. But to be honest it’s a mix of accidents, luck and a lot of work. You have to know I have no staff, I do everything myself. When you look at all the masterpieces made by the greatest artists, everybody thinks they made them themselves, but it’s not true. They all had many assistants. I have no particular drawing skills so I had to find a process and maths became my own assistants. I surprised people by writing my formulas by hand. So that is why I used the hand script as well as the graphic result coming from it.

Do you consider those productions as art or pure industrial products ?
They are more like children. I really have no business idea. They tell a story with the inside / outside make up. It’s a long-term project and now I look at them go by themselves. I like to take risks, I am not afraid to fail, this is also something you can find with colette. I am glad Reebok followed me on this point.

Honestly, did you expect moving people with maths since most ran from it in school ?
I think the use of the hand scripted formula really helped that. It’s like a street or gang inscription. It’s a self expression. A graffiti for computer ! It really helped the immediate appreciation of the shoes.

What is your link with street culture ?
I grew up in an urban environment but I left it years ago, completely left it. When the Reebok collaboration began I learned the DNA of this thing. I adapted.

Did you personally chose the models this year or did you take part in an existing program ?
We have developed everything in collaboration with Michael Schaeffer (Global Ceative Director) and Shirley Schlatka (Head of Lifestyle Business). We are like a small team inside Reebok. The first models and their declinations were Chapter 1, taken in the best of Reebok. Chapter 2 will be more creative and include apparels in addition to shoes. This is going to happen in the middle of 2009.

So what do we have to expect in the coming future ?
We have just unveiled the third collaborative project: the Pump Fury Struccess. All those creations come from the theory I have developed in the past years. It is called the Laws of Simplicity and there are 10 Laws. The Ventilator Timetanium was based on Law 3: Time, the Freestyle Emoretion was Law 7: Emotion, and the Pump Fury Struccess on Law 9: Failure. You have to get ready for the 10 laws to show up !
I also produced the keys for an open platform that will be launched in 2009. Customers via RBK Custom will chose their model then enter words like feelings, tastes, influences and colors and the graphic will be instantly and personally produced out of all this information.

The story is not over yet !

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