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Designer, technologist and Silicon Valley advisor John Maeda on ‘how to speak machine’

The former global head of computational design and inclusion for WordPress owner Automattic is speaking in Philly this Friday, and has four tickets to give away.

John Maeda. (Photo by Flickr user JD Lasica, used via a Creative Commons license) is serving as a media partner for CreateXChange's Nov. 22 event.

How do the computers of 2019 think? What about the computers of the future? And why should we care about AI, algorithms and “smart” objects?

John Maeda, the designer, technologist and Silicon Valley advisor behind the Design in Tech Report presented each year at SXSW, has some ideas.

Maeda — currently the chief experience officer at digital business transformation company Publicis Sapient after working as global head of computational design and inclusion for WordPress owner Automattic — is visiting Philadelphia this Friday, Nov. 22, to speak about his new book, “How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age.”

The details:

  • Friday, Nov. 22
  • 8:15 to 11:30 a.m.
  • Drexel University’s Bossone Research Enterprise Center (3140 Market St.)
  • Hosted by CreateXChange and Vanguard Innovation Studio

Find more info and buy tickets here. also has four free tickets to give away. Want one? Just email with the subject line “John Maeda tix” and you’ll be entered into a drawing. We’ll pick winners at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

CreateXChange asked Maeda a few questions about his work ahead of the Philly talk. Here’s a sample of what he’ll be bringing to the event:


Which larger corporations do you think have done a particularly good job at rejecting hubris and embracing change?

McDonald’s is an example of an established company that is actively integrating data and AI into how they work. At Publicis Sapient, we call this being “dataful.”

What can startups learn from the larger legacy companies?

Startups all wish to grow up and become endups [the now-successful, established companies]. Their natural inclination is to dismiss the grown-up companies as older and less relevant. But there’s a lot to learn from an end up about how to sustainably achieve scale, develop employees and maintain organizational hygiene.

You have suggested that Silicon Valley could face the same fate as Detroit unless something happens — what’s that “something”?

Whether it’s the textile industry of New England in the late 1800s, or the car industry in Detroit, the lesson of emerging technology is that disruption will always happen — so be ready. Once a technology has become commoditized, design steps in to differentiate. The problem with AI is that we human beings could easily potentially become commoditized as well. I believe that the best way to manage the future is not to be scared of it, so “How To Speak Machine” exists to do just that.


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