Designer John Maeda speaks on role of design in tech industry

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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On Tuesday, Silicon Valley-based graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda spoke on campus about the role of design in the tech industry at the Haas School of Business’s Andersen Auditorium.

The event was hosted by the Haas school’s Dean’s Speaker Series and the Berkeley Forum. Maeda, a former president of the Rhode Island School of Design and current design partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said the worlds of design and technology are merging together because of the growing impact of the user experience. Maeda’s presentation on design in tech trends was also delivered this year at South by Southwest, a set of festivals and conferences on film, music and interactive media.

According to Maeda, the vast increase in use and popularity — what he calls “user inflation” — of mobile products, such as smartphones, explains why the user experience is now so important. Using the example of a car, Maeda said technology is becoming a “lifestyle expression.”

“Design is moving from ‘nice-to-have’ to ‘need-to-have,’ ” he said during his talk. “We can no longer tolerate a poor experience.”

People used to continually buy new technology because manufacturers would add more memory or more space, Maeda said, but tech consumers no longer only want the product with the most memory — they also care about how it looks.

“Tech is no longer only for techies,” he said during the presentation.

Additionally, Maeda said, the increasing role of design in start-up companies can explain why there are now more start-ups co-founded by designers, as well as why creative design agencies are being acquired by tech companies.

More than 80 percent of early-stage start-up companies have designers on their teams, according to Jackie Xu, a talent partner with Maeda’s firm who held a brief back-and-forth chat with him during the presentation.

Xu said a company that includes a designer within a start-up’s first 10 hires embodies a design-friendly culture, as early hires shape the culture of a company.

“You want the ratio (of start-up staff) to be one designer to many engineers,” she said during the chat.

Contact Lydia Tuan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

A previous version of a headline attached to this article may have implied that John Maeda is only a graphic designer. In fact, he currently holds the title of design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.