10 minutes with John Maeda


John Maeda is the Fortune Cookie it says. I had no desire to snap him in half and extract his wisdom on a piece of roughly typed paper. But I did figure it’d be a chance to meet an interesting guy and ask him a question in a strange setting.

I turned up to the Riflemaker gallery and had a look round at a bunch of his tweets and some of his art.




Then I had to decide what kind of artwork I wanted to buy to documenet our consultation. It was part of the rules. I wasn’t really sure, so I thought I’d get him to take a picture of me and sign it. I thought that just getting a tweet would be a little ordinary. The profits are going towards funding scholarships to the Rhode Island School of Design, so I didn’t mind coughing up a few quid.


Once I’d made my choice. I got taken upstairs to meet the man. It’s a dark-ish room. He’s sanding there in a puffer jacket in a sandpit. There’s nothing else in the sandpit apart from a chair and a stick. There’s incense burning. There’s no doubt that an enigmatic air is being manufactured.

He starts out by asking me to sit down. And then he asks who I am and what I do. Turns out he knows John Jay from W+K (hardly surprising, everyone who’s anyone knows John Jay).


So the conversation gets pretty specific about work pretty fast – at some point during the conversation he picks up a Polaroid camera and takes a snap of me. He writes a single word “NO” underneath it and signs it.

Me by John Maeda

During our conversation he paces around the sandpit occasionally making notes in the sand with a long stick. Towards the end of our conversation he pulls out his Canon S90 camera (I only spotted that because I have the same one) and takes a photo of his sand scribblings. I have no idea what he’s going to do with these photos and maybe I never will.

In the gallery notes they say:

“The overall experience being somewhere between McKinsey Consulting going on tour and a visit to the hairdresser. ”

Not an inaccurate description although my experience was somewhere between meeting Yoda, a tutorial with an amazing professor and a careers guidance session.

So what did I learn?

I got referred to 2 books that I ought to read:

Oh, and at the end he told me not to worry. So I won’t.

Why did he write “NO” under my photo? I don’t think it was any kind of rejection, I suspect it’s actually connected to an important part of my story that he got me to share. A pivotal moment. Or alternatively he could have just written that on everyone’s photo who he didn’t like much. But I’m not going to worry about that either.

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