Creative Titans: John Maeda and the Art of Simplicity



Born in 1966, John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist. Throughout his successful career as a programmer and as an artist, he has found a way to seamlessly interconnect the two.

During his time studying at MIT, famed designer Muriel Cooper persuaded Maeda to pursue his passions for fine art and design. He did so by teaching typographers and page designers to explore the freedom of the web through computer-aided design. Many designers credit him with laying the groundwork for interactive motion graphics.

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Maeda wrote the book on simplicity – literally – in 2006. His book, titled “The Laws of Simplicity”, covers the 10 laws and three key principles of simplicity, which range from thoughtful reduction to organization and time-saving.

In his early work, he redefined the use of electronic media by combining artistic techniques with advanced computer programs to create truly unique pieces. He is also a proponent of the “STEAM” movement: He strives to have an “A” for Art added to the STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

Maeda focuses on creating simplicity in the digital age by intersecting complicated technology with art and design. As a member of the Technical Advisory Board for Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, he is constantly faced with the challenge of creating something that is simple, yet still meets our complex needs.

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Maeda aims to balance simplicity and complexity in business, technology, and design. To achieve this, he said: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” He believes that we can learn to simplify without sacrificing quality, both in our professional and personal lives.

He has taken influence from Paul Rand and his love of creating pieces that are less structured. He also frequently praises Apple’s designs and how they simplify our complicated needs. Maeda found that “while great art makes you wonder, great design makes things clear.”

His work has been exhibited in Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris. It is also a part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Along with his museum contributions, he has also worked with companies like Absolute Vodka, Reebok, and Shiseido to create limited edition designs that showcase his appreciation for art and technology. He is also the founder of the SIMPLICITY Consortium at the MIT Media Lab.

He is the recipient of many awards, including the Smithsonian Institution National Design Award, the Raymond Loewy Foundation Prize in Germany, and the Mainichi Design Prize in Japan. He was also named one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire and deemed the “Steve Jobs of academia” by Forbes.

Creative Titans: Frank Gehry, The Da Vinci of Architects

Frank-Gehry-v1Born in 1929, Frank Gehry is one of the most celebrated architects of our time. Commonly referred to as the “Da Vinci of Architects”, the Pritzer Prize-winning architect is responsible for some of the most important works of contemporary architecture.

His passion for architecture stemmed from childhood when he built play cities using items from his grandfather’s hardware store. His designs have a style of their own, but maintain the same bold, postmodern shapes and fluid design, even when it comes to his line of jewelry for Tiffany & Co.

He received his degree at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, where he would later serve as a board member and professor. Arianna Huffington described the outspoken architect as “the friendly genius” of our time.

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Vanity Fair asked 90 of the world’s leading architects, teachers, and critics to vote on the most significant structure built to date and Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum received three times as many votes as the second-place building received. This led to Vanity Fair deeming him “the most important architect of our age”. Along with his architectural works of art, Gehry is responsible for designing unique jewelry, furniture, liquor bottles, trophies, and even headwear for Lady Gaga.

Many of his buildings have become world-renowned attractions, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. One of his most popular and renowned works is his own private residence in Santa Monica, CA, which he redesigned in 1978. It was one of his first examples of deconstructivism in architecture. The award-winning design consists of an existing bungalow, which was wrapped in angular volumes and suburban materials like plywood, aluminum, corrugated metal, glass, and chain-link fencing. Even the furniture within is made of cardboard.ScreenShot6537His likeness and famed private residence were even featured on The Simpsons in 2005, where he voiced the character. While he was the first architect to ever appear on The Simpsons, the guest appearance is something he would later regret. In the episode, he is inspired by a crumpled piece of paper, which many viewers believed was his true inspiration for the LA Disney Concert Hall. In fact, his designs require a very lengthy, inspired process. For instance, his firm, Gehry Partners, begins each new endeavor with a Digital Project, which is a sophisticated 3D computer modeling program, to work through the details.

At age 86, he is now overseeing philanthropic and commercial projects. The most notable project he is currently working on is the restoration of the Los Angeles River, with plans to convert the 51-mile concrete structure to a public outdoor space and tourist destination.

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Gehry works to create buildings with movement and feeling, unlike any before them. He has created a unique form of architecture, commonly referred to as liquid architecture. He works to disrupt expectations by using non-traditional materials like chain-link fencing and metal siding to make one-of-a-kind masterpieces.

While he knows European art history and contemporary sculpture and painting, he strives for uniqueness. His earliest educational influences involved modernism, which can still be seen in his ultra modern work today.

He revolutionized more than just architectural design; he transformed the relationship a building has to its city.  According to Gehry, “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.”

Gehry found that the key to success is complete creative freedom in a project. As he put it, “I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do.”

Creative Titans: How Alvin Lustig Applied Design to Life


Born in 1915, American book designer and graphic designer, Alvin Lustig, set the stage for modern American design. With more than 400 important designs credited to the designer, it’s difficult to attribute his success to any particular work. As a recipient of a 1993 AIGA Medal (awarded posthumous) and honored by the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame for his contributions to American design, he was highly celebrated, both while he was alive and thereafter. He trained at the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles and studied with American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and French painter, Jean Charlot, for a short time.

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Lustig’s work is varied and his popular work included everything from 1940s Los Angeles architectural projects to celebrated magazine covers. Along with graphic design, his impressive range of work included book covers, magazines, letterheads, catalogs, signage, furniture, logos, sculptures, furniture, architecture, and much more. His list of clients and range of positions included everything from Director of Visual Research for Look Magazine to designer for Girl Scouts of the United States. During his 10 years at New Directions Publishing, he designed more than 70 unique covers for the New Classics literary series, including A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and many more.

Lustig used his incredible craft for more than just one outlet. He enjoyed all aspects of design, which included architecture, interiors, and industrial design. He believed that “one of the more severe penalties of over-specialization is the lack of nourishing and fertile exchange, which always results from isolation.” To combat this, he found it crucial for creatives to experiment with other types of design, aside from just their areas of expertise. By working interdependently, he felt designers could create the maximum impact on our culture, rather than just on the design community.

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Lustig had an unwavering appreciation for geometry and scale, and created geometric designs using type ornaments. Each design project involved problem solving, with the solutions including form and color. He utilized strong typeface design and intricate artwork to create eye-catching covers for novels that begged to be picked up.

Each of his all-encompassing book covers had a life and character of its own, focusing on more than just one general image. James Laughlin in “The Book Jackets of Alvin Lustig” had this to say about Lustig: “His method was to read a text and get the feel of the author’s creative drive, then to restate it in his own graphic terms”.

He applied design to all aspects of his life and was quoted as saying, “The words graphic designer, architect, or industrial designer stick in my throat, giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, of a relationship to society and form itself that is unsatisfactory and incomplete. This inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of the designer.”

In 1954, following complications from diabetes he developed as a teenager, Lustig was virtually blind, but that didn’t stop him from completing his important work. In fact, some of his finest pieces were produced during this time. Lustig passed away in 1955, at age 40, but the modern design pioneer left a lasting impression. He set the stage for modern graphic design and book designs to come.

His work inspired all those around him. In fact, his wife and fellow graphic designer, Elaine Lustig Cohen, took over his New York City design firm following his death and was awarded an AIGA Medal in 2011 for her contributions to American graphic design. Today, a number of books have been devoted to his work, and his theories on design education are also part of the curriculum for some of the most renowned design schools in the world.

Creative Titans: Milton Glaser Hearts NY

Milton Glaser Iconic DesignBorn in 1929 in New York City, Milton Glaser is a groundbreaking American graphic designer and illustrator. He is one of the most internationally renowned, celebrated, and influential designers of our time. In 2009, he was the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts, which was awarded by President Barack Obama.

He began at the High School of Music and Art in New York and continued at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. Later in life, he lectured and taught others at the Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts in New York. He launched New York Magazine with Clay Felker in 1968 and founded two successful studios, which produced some renowned works.

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Many written works and even a documentary film, “To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser”, have studied his important work. His work is also celebrated regularly at MoMA. While he created a number of important works and iconic logos, his most celebrated is the “I [Heart] NY” logo. This logo has become a New York trademark and can be found on every street corner. It is also a tourist favorite and is one of the most enduring and iconic designs in the modern era.

He focused on more than one type of design, working on everything from book covers and more than 500 posters to environmental and interior design. He is also highly celebrated for his work in 1966 designing an iconic Bob Dylan poster and album cover, featuring Bob Dylan with colorful kaleidoscope hair. Glaser believes that “color is so intuitive”, which is widely apparent in most of his colorful, exotic, illustrative works.

Design Strategy

Glaser believes that “To design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master.” He believes that to be a good designer, you need to begin by being a good citizen. Each design can bend culture, affect the community and environment, and can even affect a person’s day. He goes into each project with care for the general public to ensure the design benefits the greater good.

He enjoys pursuing more than one type of design, as there is a faint distinction between someone who designs buildings and someone who designs logos. To expand on the subject, Glaser said, “I am very interested in the design of restaurants, so I’ve designed them. And I’ve designed supermarkets—which is usually thought of as a highly specialized activity, reserved for those who have the credentials to do it. I felt that it was possible to do some of this work without credentials. I have been opportunistic and through the years have sort of blurred the distinction a little between professional practice in architecture, product design, interior design, graphic design and magazine design.”

Glaser was quoted as saying, “Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.” According to Glaser, he preferred to first draw his ideas because “the great benefit of drawing is that when you look at something, you see it for the first time.”

At 85 years old, Glaser is still going strong. He currently works in a small studio in Manhattan, and in 2014, he launched a campaign to raise awareness of climate change. He leaves these important words with all designers and aspiring designers alike: “You must embrace failure.” Continuing to learn and grow from his mistakes has been part of Glaser’s strategy for years.

Creative Titans: Charles Csuri, the Father of Computer Art


Charles Csuri (better known as Chuck) is an American painter who transformed works of art by creating a series of digital drawings based on renowned paintings. He is known as the father of digital art and computer animation, and paved the field for artists in the future. Named an All-American college football player by the Ohio State University, he turned down a professional football career to instead pursue his studies in computer art at the graduate level.

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Csuri is a pioneer in computer graphics and has continues to teach and inspire others with his interactive works of art. In the 1960s, he studied computers, which he used to help him form the art of computer graphics and animation. His interest in computer graphics began when he saw a computer generated face in a publication from the Department of Electrical Engineering. He created an analog computer, which he then used to make various transformations of a drawing.

Csuri has always been ahead of his time and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) even recognized the artist as a leading pioneer of computer animation. His most notable pieces are “Random War”, “Hummingbird”, “A Happy Time”, and “La Primavera”. His work has also been featured in a number of television programs and by Walt Disney Productions.

His work has been studied and presented around the world. He has also been privy to a number of awards, honors, and achievements around the world, including both the prestigious Governor’s Award for the Arts and the Ohio State University Sullivan Award in 2000.

Design Strategy

Csuri’s paintings are based on paintings from such masters as Durer, Goya, Ingres, Klee, Mondrian, and Picasso.  He is also inspired by the work of Sir D’Arcy. Csuri discovered a way to convey a new set of feelings and emotions from a work of art originally designed by another artist. Each brush stroke conveys a different emotion and Csuri believes that the bolder the brush stroke, the greater the power and feeling. He also offers different styles of art, ranging from vector/plotter computer imaging pieces to algorithmic paintings.

In regards to his design strategy, he has said, “Sometimes I prefer the mix of my traditional background as a painter and my experience with the computer.” He utilized two basic procedures to achieve a computer sculpture: a mathematical procedure and a comprehensive set of computer programs. He also said the creative process works best when he is “able to live in a space of psychological uncertainty”.

To create his unique works of art, he said, “I see and feel a single object from many points of view. When I make copies of an object, they become captured instances of time representing inner agents and different psychological states. Symbolically, it represents past, present, and future states and becomes a character within a virtual space.“

Creative Titans: Shigeru Miyamoto and the Story of Nintendo

Miyamoto and Nintendo Design

Shigeru Miyamoto is the mastermind behind some of the world’s most recognized and influential video games. He is one of the most respected game designers around the world, and has also sold the most titles ever.

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Miyamoto’s most highly recognized and admired works include Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, and Zelda, to name a few. While he was the designer on most games he worked on, he has also served as producer, supervisor, and/or director on many popular games.

As a child, Miyamoto didn’t have any toys, so he made his own puppets, cartoon books, and toys made from wood and string. He also spent a great deal of time outdoors, surrounded by nature, and playing in caves. He has an infamous cave story, where he describes a series of dark caves and passageways that he explored as a child. He was intrigued by the shapes and movements that the shadows created from his lamp. He attributes that experience and that time of exploration around the city of Kyoto to helping him design his renowned video games.

In the late 1970s, Nintendo was going bankrupt and needed a miracle. Miyamoto began working for Nintendo in 1977, and in 1981 Miyamoto created the characters Donkey Kong and Mario, and has been helping design games and characters ever since. Over the years, he has been doing what he loves, and it shows. To this day, he does not receive a higher salary than the other Nintendo developers and has said, “The money which I earn is mainly dedicated to video games and I am very content.

Miyamoto and Nintendo Design

Design Strategy

Miyamoto tests his games on himself, and his friends and family because he is confident that if he finds the games fun, so will most other people. He also focuses more on the challenges in the games, rather than over-the-top graphics. He also prefers fun, quick storylines to long film sequences, providing yet another example that sometimes, simplicity is key.

He left inspiring words for fellow designers and artists: “A great idea solves multiple problems at the same time.” His designs create memories, let children’s imaginations take flight, and set the stage for mindblowing video game designs to come.

Creative Titans: Giambattista Bodoni, the Father of Typography


Giambattista Bodoni was a famed Italian typography designer who left his beautiful mark on the world from 1740-1813. His designs of various typefaces were considered more a work of art and layout than actual reading material.

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Bodoni designed and personally engraved 298 typefaces over his life, but is most widely known for the typeface Bodoni, which he created in 1790. He was a leader in originating pseudoclassical typography and wrote a number of esteemed books throughout his life. During his time managing various printing houses, he helped produce about 1,200 fine editions. His success eventually allowed him to open a printing press in his own name.

He was born into a printmaking family and followed his father and grandfather into the trade. During his apprenticeship at the Roman Catholic Church’s Propaganda Fide printing house, he was able to master ancient languages and types and was even allowed to place his own name on his first books. During his time teaching the art of printing and typemaking, his prized pupils, The Amoretti Brothers, claimed authorship over the Bodoni type, which led to a famed rivalry.

Together with Firmin Didot, Bodoni created a style of type called “New Face”, which is a style where the letters are cut to produce a contrast between the thick and thin parts of the letter. The text is then offset with wide margins and little to no illustrations.

To this day, Bodoni remains a popular fashion font and is commonly associated with the Armani Exchange, Elizabeth Arden, and Calvin Klein logos. It is also widely used on posters and headlines. What we see today is the result of several modern revivals of the original typeface, but is just as visually striking in today’s modern society. There are also a range of font adaptations, including Bauer Bodoni, FF Bodoni, and ITC Bodoni, which each feature their own unique characteristics.

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Bodoni was an admirer of Pierre Simon Fournier and John Baskerville and was said to have drawn inspiration from them both. He consistently achieved unmatched technical refinement, which allowed him to successfully reproduce the letterforms. The type is extreme, refined, and features a number of unique characteristics, such as a square dot over the letter “i” and a double storey “a”. It reflects true technical skill and refinement, and features hairline serifs without bracketing, vertical stress, and undeniable stroke contrasts.

Bodoni’s strategy simply involved creating pieces out of love and passion. In fact, after his death, a deep scar was detected on his chest, which had been left by the bar of his beloved printing press. The type is a timeless work of art that is so beloved that author G.W. Ovink was once quoted as saying “Bodoni would be an admirable letter for a death notice!”

Creative Titans: Walt Disney and the Dream That Began with a Mouse


Walt Disney was a determined man who had a vision of a happier, brighter place for kids and adults alike. He was always a visionary and creative leader who loved to entertain people, and continued to do so for the remainder of his life.

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In his professional life, Disney was renowned as an animator, film producer, and theme park designer.  We see him as being one of the great creative leaders in history (among many other things). Along with his team of highly skilled staff, he was able to create some of the most iconic fictional characters of our time, including Mickey Mouse (which was voiced by Walt Disney himself).

When he made plans to produce the first animated feature-length film, Snow White, the Disney Studio was not confident in the endeavor and referred to the project as “Disney’s Folly”. However, he stayed true to his lasting words, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” and stuck with the project. It became the most successful motion picture of its time and earned more than $8 million on its initial release. The film also ushered in the period known as “The Golden Age of Animation”.

Disneyland, also known as “The Happiest Place On Earth”, first opened in 1955. It offers a closer look into Disney and the characters he created. Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts can be found around the world, including in the United States, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.

The Disney empire continues to live on and grow without him, but certain elements will never change and he will be forever known as the man who changed the world through animation.

Design Strategy

In creating an impeccable experience in his theme parks, Walt had a singular vision for the design and staging of the parks.  He and his design team (which he named Imagineers) implemented his vision with an incredible degree of craftsmanship.  Whats more, once he had an idea in his head, Walt stuck with it until it came to fruition. He was quoted as saying, “Get a good idea, and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done, and done right.” There were many projects and ideas that Disney was confident in and saw through, even while his partners and staff were doubting him. He proved that taking chances is what life – and the world of design – is all about.

Creative Titans: Shepard Fairey and the Obama “Hope” Poster

Shepard Fairey innovative branding with street art

Shepard Fairey, born Frank Shepard Fairey, is an American contemporary street artist and graphic designer. While he started on the skateboarding scene, he has since created a name for himself in many circles.  His work combines graffiti, pop art, graphic design, and wheat pasting (using a water and wheat mixture to adorn posters to public spaces).

While he is considered an influential street artist, his work can also be found in a number of museums around the world, and on the covers of reputable magazines, album covers, and more.  His work is also featured in a number of publications, including “Supply & Demand: The Art of Shepard Fairey”.

Fairey is featured extensively in the Banksy documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.  Fairey’s likeness also appeared on a 2012 episode of “The Simpsons”, titled “Exit Through the Kwik E-Mark”, along with Robbie Conal, Kenny Scharf, and Ron English.

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Shepard Fairey innovative branding with street art

Shepard Fairey is most commonly associated with the Obey Giant campaign, featuring Andre the Giant, which originated in 1992. Although he had only recently become a graffiti artist, he took advantage of the visually striking image and took his stencils and stickers to the street.

He gained a great deal of respect after the release of his Barack Obama “Hope” poster, which was released during the 2008 presidential election.  This poster introduced a completely innovative branding tool into the world of political campaigning – street art and pop culture.  The poster originally had the word “Progress” captioned, but the campaign requested that he change the word to “Hope”. Two additional posters also feature the words “Change” and “Vote”.

Design Strategy

To create the infamous “Hope” poster, Fairey played on the colors of the American flag, with “Hope” drawn in bold letters. He utilized his standard cream and red colors, but played with different shades of blue until he found the perfect hue to convey the right combination of aesthetics and patriotism.

Fairey most commonly uses stenciling, collage, and screen printing to create his work. He has found great success in creating images that can’t be ignored and using repetition to get his message across. By simply plastering posters, stickers, and stenciled images on public spaces, he has made himself a household name with street artists, designers, and the public at large.

Creative Titans: How Saul Bass Changed Movies


Saul Bass was an esteemed graphic designer and filmmaker who created some of the most iconic film posters, corporate logos, and title sequences in history.  He also accrued a number of honors, recognitions, and achievements during his lifetime, both in the design community and in Hollywood.

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Saul Bass is best known for his visually striking film posters and artwork. He is also credited as being one of the first artists to realize the potential of beginning and ending movie credits and utilized the title sequence to set the film’s tone and mood.

His body of work consisted of logo designs, short films, commercials, posters, key art design, title sequences, and television. He worked with some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers and was regularly contracted by Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, Bass was known for helping create some of the most memorable title sequences and controversial scenes, including the infamous “Psycho” shower scene. Some film books even credit him as co-director of “Psycho”.

Bass also created some of the most iconic logos of our time, including Quaker Oats, AT&T, Bell Telephone, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, and more. His legendary art has served as the inspiration for a number of works today, including the “Saul Bass Font”. His illustrations are also featured in various publications, including “Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design,” and serve as inspiration for many graphic design and poster design pieces today.

Design Strategy

Bass’s simplified thoughts on design were: “Design is thinking made visual.” He also gave the following insight into his design strategy: “Sometimes when an idea flashes, you distrust it because it seems too easy. You qualify it with all kinds of evasive phrases because you’re timid about it. But often, this turns out to be the best idea of all.”

He worked to create art and film pieces that enhanced the viewer’s experience. His film posters were able to convey all of the important elements of the film in a striking, simplified design.

Bass passed away in 1996, but his work lives on and is still widely respected today.