Salt Fat Acid Heat and Design

As a fan of eating delicious things, my eyes and brain perked up when I read about Chef Samin Nosrat and her new cookbook entitled “Salt Fat Acid Heat.” In her book she describes this phenomenon as the perfect storm of tastes as achieved by the simple grilled cheese sandwich:

“Learn to balance them perfectly and you’ll learn to create the perfect meal. Take the grilled cheese: if the pan is too hot, the bread will burn without the cheese melting; too cold, and the sandwich will turn soggy. The butter on the bread is the best fat to marry with the heat for this result. The cheese on the inside provides the necessary saltiness to cut through the butter, and the pickles on the side provide the acidity needed to balance a rich meal.”

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5 Books on Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

Painting by Jane Mount


When I moved to Silicon Valley, I donated all of my books to Designer Fund in San Francisco. It’s freeing to let go of the past. I’ve found that it makes things a lot simpler for yourself — and it forces you to figure out what truly matters. As I wrote in a book on simplicity now over a decade ago:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful. 

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Design in Tech Report 2018

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Silicon Valley design guru John Maeda distinguishes between three categories: “classical” designers, who create physical objects or products; “commercial” designers who innovate by seeking deep insights into how customers interact with products and services; and “computational” designers, who use programming skills and data to satisfy millions or even billions of users instantaneously.

Clay Chandler on the Design in Tech Report
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Design in Tech: Evolving Challenges for Silicon Valley

From the Kleiner Perkins blog on January 11, 2016

As recently as just fifteen years ago, computers were primarily used by researchers and otherwise “nerdy” types. Software was difficult to use, a situation that was remedied by endless manuals. Hardware didn’t look like anything more than a box, preferably one that could be opened easily with a screwdriver. I was fortunate to live through that era and watch it unfold over a few decades at the MIT Media Lab.

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Foreword for Make It New, by Barry Katz

This is the draft and unedited foreword to Barry Katz’s book, Make It New.


At a recent MIT event, I had the opportunity to listen to a variety of stories as told by Professor Nicholas Negroponte on how the MIT Media Lab came to be. He shared many great ones – ranging from his chance dinner encounter with Buckminster Fuller on a cruise ship, to how he came to know William J. Mitchell just when he had arrived in the US, to his chauffeur-driven adventures with his mentor, MIT President Jerome Wiesner, in launching the Media Lab in the early 80s.

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Three Principles for Using Design Successfully

For the WSJ blog on February 21, 2014

Since arriving in Silicon Valley six weeks ago, I’ve spent time with designers at Flipboard, Chegg, Nest, AboutLife, FindTheBest, MyFitnessPal, Square, Codecademy, Gumroad (all Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers portfolio companies) and about 20 others. I often feel that there are as many startups as there were students at Rhode Island School of Design, the college I used to run. And just like each individual RISD student impressed me with their creativity, each company I meet fills me with creative inspiration and hope. Startups are not unlike art and design students — they both bring an uncanny work ethic to challenges and opportunities that would normally be viewed as impossible to tackle.

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Earning, Gooding, Making (, Processing)

“What is Design?” Written on May 8, 2013


Yesterday I spoke at the Atlantic IDEAS conference with Paola Antonelli of MoMA on the nature of design in the age of technology. I always find it helpful to be in front of folks that are unfamiliar to design to force myself to try and figure out “What is Design?” as there‘s nothing like pressure from a live audience.

There’s growing interest in design, I think, because there is such interest in the younger generation to do good for the world — what I refer to in my diagram above of a “gooding for prosperity” axis. In our capitalistic society, there’s always been the pressure to make a buck, euro, yuan, etc so the “earning for profit” axis is a classic measure of worth.

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Startups are great, but we can learn a lot from “end-ups,” too

End-ups have resources; start-ups have commitment.

by John Maeda / February 3, 2013 

for GigaOm

At last week’s DLD Conference in Munich, I had the opportunity to sit onstage with the co-founder and CPO of Airbnb, Joe Gebbia. We started by discussing the unique creative culture at Rhode Island School of Design, where Joe went to college, and where I currently serve as president. Joe shared some of his secrets of being a successful designer-founder, and then turned the tables and asked me what it’s like to run a 136-year-old institution like RISD.

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STEM TO STEAM

via the Guardian on November 13, 2010 | image by Creative Mornings


Why does science need artists?

We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. And human experiences happen through engaging with the arts – listening to music, say, or seeing a piece of art.

So to help them become more humanist, you’d parachute artists and musicians into laboratories?

Which already happens to some degree with artist-in-residence programmes in scientific labs. They’re usually very small, but these programmes are seen as quite desirable by scientists. Because all scientists are humans, and they are humanists inside, and by bringing that part out, innovation happens more naturally.

Can you think of an example where an injection of the arts has helped the sciences?

I recently saw something in Time magazine, a famous Nobel laureate chemist making molecular models out of clay. It shows how these more fluid, abstract materials traditionally belonging to the artist lend themselves better to ways of thinking about the world, as opposed to some kind of ball-and-stick model that shows a constrained view. Art helps you see things in a less constrained space. Our economy is built upon convergent thinkers, people that execute things, get them done. But artists and designers are divergent thinkers: they expand the horizon of possibilities. Superior innovation comes from bringing divergents (the artists and designers) and convergents (science and engineering) together.

Such as?

Look at Apple’s iPod. A perfect example of technology – an MP3 player – that existed for a long time but that nobody ever wanted, until design made it something desirable, useful, integrated into your lifestyle. Look at the success of Mint.com [a colourful money-management website] which has recently been sold. It’s an app in which 80% of the experience is what you see, how you touch it. Not the technology. I’m also interested in how art and design links into leadership. Because leaders now are facing a very chaotic landscape, things are no longer black and white, things are harder to predict. What better mindset to adopt than the artist’s, who is very used to living in an ambiguous space? Real innovation doesn’t just come from technology, it comes from places like art and design.

George Osborne recently announced protection in the higher-education cuts for the so-called Stem subjects, but not the arts. Is this blinkered?

You know, it’s easy for politicians to look at the measurability of a science and maths education. I mean, fill out 100 questions, you get 100 right or 50 right or zero right, it’s easy to measure. There’s no test that can give you a score from zero to 100 on the question, “Is this student a good writer?” And society’s so focused on measurement. It’s awkward and sad. Singapore or Japan are highly known test-taking countries focused on science and engineering, yet are desperate to find innovation. And where are they looking? They’re looking to the west for new ideas. It’s kind of like a dog chasing after its tail a little bit – this weeding out of the idea that expression, something that exists in the intuition space, can matter. I mean, it’s ironic that the people who talk about these kind of things [cuts to the arts] are all counting on things to carry their message – like images, the written word – as givens.

Do you think that scientists tend to lack humanity?

Scientists would say otherwise. But scientists strive to be pure, to live in what’s called a “concept space”. And by doing so they tend to move away from the core humanist principles that actually put those two arms and legs on them in the first place. The best scientists that I’ve met are those that are humanists and scientists at the same time.


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