John Maeda at #SNDNYC: ‘You cannot do design if you aren’t inclusive’

By Yee M. Ng

Design and technology veteran John Maeda opened SND’s 2018 annual workshop in New York City with a call for greater inclusion in design. In a wide-ranging talk, Maeda showed highlights from his 2018 Design in Tech report. Now in its fourth year, this annual report has become one of the most anticipated evaluations of the present and the future of the design field.

As head of computational design and inclusion at Automattic,’s parent company, Maeda explained that designers today are uniquely positioned to use empathy, design thinking, and computational design to solve design problems.

A few highlights from his talk:

Inclusive design is good business

Maeda believes that design and inclusion are inseparable. Since tech has spread to the masses, design needs to be more inclusive of people with different backgrounds. Adopting an inclusive design strategy can be both commercially successful and socially meaningful. “You can increase your total addressable market by being inclusive,” he said.

On time and money

When asked to define success in design, Maeda replied, “A successful designer is someone who is making money.” While the line drew laughter, he elaborated in a more serious vein: “The things you don’t want to do can make a lot of money sometimes,” while the things you want to do sometimes don’t. Hence his advice: Make money in order to fund your passion projects.

As if to underscore the point, Maeda invited the audience to flip through his newly bought 365-day journal and “feel the year.” Compared with digital products, he described how he appreciates the truth and inclusiveness physical things offer. “When I see that book I think there’s a lot of time in which to get stuff done.” he said.

How to achieve inclusion

Maeda advocates for inclusive design as a way of creating products and services that attempt to reach people of diverse backgrounds, particularly those in underserved communities.

“We have to design systems that are more inclusive, that behave differently, that are working for people who are currently exempt from the information economy,” he said. He cited Automattic’s completely virtual workforce as a boon to inclusion, because it allows people to work from beyond the overrepresented coastal metroplexes.

Maeda and his team have travelled across the country, to cities such as Detroit, working with schools both to empower people’s thinking and learn how they think. His goal is to rethink and create designs that embrace human differences.

You can check out the full Design in Tech Report 2018 here.

(Photo: Autumn Kovach)


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