RISD: President John Maeda

john maeda president risd 2008

Just before the holiday break RISD announced that in June of 2008 John Maeda would be RISD’s 16th president taking over RISD’s longest-serving president (15 yrs) Roger Mandle. This is HUGE news. Watch the introduction of Maeda here.

Being a RISD alum (2002) and having some experience at the MIT MediaLab I’ve mixed feeling about this decision. Maeda is a really well known person coming from the prestigious MIT MediaLab. He’s very smart and inspirational, has an incredible history, probably has some great insights for RISD’s future, BUT I’m just not sure if he is the right fit..only time will tell. It’s a bit tough to follow Mandle.

A few thoughts:
– RISD is a very traditional hands on school and this is their strong point. Hands on is one of those things you can’t just read about or type…you just have to experience it. How does one manage an education system without experiencing it themselves and all the other disciplines? i.e drawing nude people all day all year, knowing materials, understanding students of a different nature, inhaling charcoal, the freshmen experience, doing 3 all nighters a week for 4 yrs, cross pollinating disciplines, sustainability, etc.

– John comes from a very modern digital world. His thoughts on creativity are very statistical which is not bad, but just very different than how most RISD kids think. I’m still not sure why Maeda is that famous besides his mathematical art pieces and his “simplicity” route, but it’ll be interesting to see how Maeda adopts to the physical design world. RISD does lack digitally, but keep in mind RISD is a school of tradition and physicality.

– Maeda comes from a very corporate background, getting projects, funding, lots of media attention, etc. Does RISD want this? RISD is good at leaving students alone in such a way that they have to discover themselves and be unique to the rest of the world. Many schools prep students for what the world wants but RISD’s culture almost forces you to discover yourself over manipulating you into what’s already out there. This can be good or bad. Think of it like an indie band signing onto a label or a street fashion that makes the shelves of wal-mart or corporate life compared to a small firms culture.

– Who adopts to who…does Maeda Adopt to the RISD culture, or will RISD have to adopt to Maeda’s culture?

Watch the two videos of Maeda vs Mandle. It’s pretty obvious who understands the RISD culture more, but Maeda definitely sounds like he’s ready to dive in and learn a ton and become a RISDoid; Ball, Nad, Sack (the RISD sports teams). I do wish the best for Maeda+RISD but as an alum I naturally question changes for the future. Hopefully Maeda launches his own RISD blog as he has for his simplicity forum here. He’s also created a few pretty cool open discussion groups in Facebook asking the RISD community to feed him info on whats good, bad, and ugly.

Any thoughts, please comment! All the best to RISD+Maeda’s future!

4 Responses to “RISD: President John Maeda”

  1. ethan estes Says:

    yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how Maeda fits in at RISD. I always liked Mandle-he started as a freshman president with my class. I was sad to hear he was stepping down.

    Lord knows the school can also use an injection of the digital things to broaden the students resources and strong fund raising for capital improvements. When i was a senior all i wanted was a building that did not leak on my work when it rained!

    But if Maeda really wants to get to know the school he should just take freshman foundation for the first semester or audit a drawing 101 winter session class.

  2. tango! Says:

    ethan, yea for sure..ya gotsta experience the freshmen yr bootcamp to understand RISD to some degree. I wonder how john would be in a freshmen section…. would be an experience in itself.

  3. tango! Says:

    From the above articel, a quote that made me a bit uneasy:

    “Maeda: As for what I have further down the pipeline, I will save that discussion for a later date. Sorry for the secrecy. You know, I aspire to become the Steve Jobs of university presidents [smile]. Seriously, though, I envision RISD as the Apple brand in the university world.”

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