John Maeda Moves On

Almost six years after accepting the position of president at RISD, John Maeda announced earlier this month that he is leaving to pursue his ongoing passion for design and technology in Silicon Valley. In January he will become a design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, CA specializing in digital, green tech and life sciences startups. In addition, he will serve as chair of eBay Inc.’s Design Advisory Board.

In his new role at KPCB, Maeda will work with entrepreneurs and portfolio companies to “help them build design DNA into their company cultures,” according to the firm. He will lead KPCB’s Design Council, a group of preeminent designers across the industry, and will support the KPCB Design Fellows program, an internship that helps students like Amrit Mazumder 15 GD better understand the importance of design to the success of tech startups.

“I firmly believe that art and design will transform our economy in the 21st century the way that science and technology did in the last century,” Maeda says. “Joining KPCB was an irresistible opportunity to work alongside talented investment professionals and entrepreneurs to elevate design to the forefront of leadership and innovation.”

In making the announcement, KPCB Partner John Doerr noted, “John is a genius – a pioneer at the intersection of design, computing, art and education. [He] is again breaking new ground as KPCB’s first design partner. We’re excited by the expertise and insights he will offer entrepreneurs and ventures.”

As Maeda prepares to leave, RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter is pleased that “he will continue to be an advocate for creativity and a leader at the intersection of design, technology and business.” The Board chair has also expressed his appreciation for the president’s good work during his tenure here, noting, “President Maeda has been a visionary and passionate leader for RISD over the past six years, advancing not only our cherished, 136-year-old institution but also the role of art and design in the 21st century global economy.”

At the same time, the Board is confident in its appointment of Provost Rosanne Somerson – whom Spalter describes as “an inspiring, passionate and dedicated leader for RISD” – as interim president, effective January 1, 2014, when a search for the 17th president will begin.

Significant accomplishments
In his pivotal role at RISD, Maeda has strengthened RISD’s operational foundations and elevated its reputation worldwide. As longtime Professor Mike Fink noted in his comments at RISD’s annual holiday celebration yesterday, one of several occasions at which the president has bid farewell to the campus community, despite a tenure that began with a global financial crisis, Maeda may ultimately be remembered for his many accomplishments – and for his “caring and compassion,” as Fink noted.

Under Maeda’s leadership, RISD was ranked #1 in Business Insider’s 2012 survey of The World’s 25 Best Design Schools. Applications increased by 9.4% in 2012 and are up another 3.5% in 2013. From the get-go, the president has consistently placed a high priority on fundraising for scholarships and, beginning with his family’s own six-figure scholarship gift, more than doubled the amount raised for scholarships compared to the previous five-year period. As a result, RISD has enrolled the most diverse undergraduate classes in its history, thanks in part to increases in financial aid (this year nearly three-quarters of accepted freshmen with a proven need were offered financial aid compared with just one-third two years ago).

Fundraising in support of academic initiatives also increased significantly under Maeda’s leadership, with RISD receiving the largest gift ever from an international donor and funding for the first endowed faculty chair. In addition, long-deferred renovations to the historic Illustration Studies Building, which houses RISD’s largest and most interdisciplinary department, are now underway thanks to the generosity of lead donors.

Maeda is also credited with helping to spur a national movement to turn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) into STEAM, urging legislators to integrate the arts into a national education agenda focused on STEM. These advocacy efforts, along with funding from new partners like the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (which funded the Make It Better initiative) and Maharam, helped RISD advance longtime connections between art, science and innovation.

Maeda also championed the growing connection between art, design and entrepreneurship, coining the word “artrepreneurship” to get at the type of businesses artists and designers tend to found. RISD was among the first schools to partner with organizations like Upstart, Etsy, Quirky, Behance and Square, and now offers increased Career Center programming to support entrepreneurship, including the annual Mindshare event.

Transformative leadership
“Maeda was transformative in allowing the Providence business community to look at the city and our assets through a different lens, and see the great potential that is here at the nexus of advanced manufacturing, design and creativity,” notes Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

The outgoing president has long bridged the worlds of technology, design and business, serving as a professor and associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab before coming to RISD. He also serves on the boards of wireless HiFi company Sonos, global advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership.

In the video farewell message he made for the campus community, Maeda noted that he’s “so proud to have been part of this community – to have led it, to have built an amazing academic and operational team, and to have represented it in the world. I know that I leave RISD as the best art and design school in the world and with the opportunity that it will be even better in the years to come.”

In other leadership transition news, incoming Interim President Somerson has appointed Dean of Architecture + Design Pradeep Sharma to step up to the role of interim provost, noting that after welcoming recommendations from dozens of faculty, Sharma emerged “as a clear frontrunner.” As one faculty member put it and Somerson agrees, he offers “the right balance of intelligence, sensitivity, integrity, creativity and criticality to continue the good work that we have started.”