RISD President John Maeda is in the news. Well, kind of. Maeda’s latest commissioned illustration, an advertisement for the new Lexus HS 250 hybrid is on the inside cover of the September 21 issue of The New Yorker,
and it says everything about technology that we just can’t seem to fit into 140 characters. Lexus tells us that the HS 250H is a wonder vehicle, and frankly, it probably is. Steering Assists, a GPS that operates through “haptic feedback,” and something called Enform come standard. Yet the car remains “comfortingly simple,” the advertisement insists (six times).
But it is Maeda himself (never at a loss for a truism) who delivers the pitch: “the more complex the machinery, the simpler the interface.” Lexus has the right man on board. Maeda has written four computer programs to literally illustrate our condition: techno-savvy, eco-conscious, longing for luxury, and increasingly confused.
It is for our benefit, then, that Maeda has set out to do the impossible, to “express the difficult balance between what the computer does versus how humans think.” Maeda’s metaphorically novel illustration (it may in fact be a MagicEye) succeeds flawlessly. A mess of digitally created Spiral-O-Graph drawings and Pantone swatches layered on top of each other (synergized) represent a pastiche of a circuit board.
Though it is unclear which of Maeda’s four program-lackeys created this self-portrait, it is without a doubt situated in the emotionless vacuum of “what the computer does.” But as Maeda adeptly draws the viewer’s eye through the composition (and nearer to the sensuous HS 250H), the field of computer-in-joke-doodles is disrupted by something startlingly human: a mess of scribbles in vibrant Technicolor that spring from the oppressive box that we can only assume once held them. They assure us that we truly are, as we suspected, masters of our technological domains (and also capable of driving this car).
The Lexus HS Hybrid is the touch sensitive, 24-hour web browsing, do-all-the-hard-stuff-including-driving-for-you companion we didn’t know we couldn’t live without. We just needed a user-friendly messenger.
PATRICK ARMSTRONG RISD '10 is Senior Art Critic for thenewyorker.tumblr.com.