A View from John Maeda

BGI = Before Google Images

Wading through the mind of the Google Images database.

  • April 20, 2008

In my recent tour of the RISD Library, I was startled to find a room with cabinets upon cabinets of labeled clusters of clippings from magazines. For any given term, there is a corresponding file of laminated individual pages from publications that span over 30 years. This is a room of visual inspiration that RISD students have been coming to for years in order to see source material connected to specific ideas and keywords.

Naturally, my first thought was, “With Google Image Search, wouldn’t such a resource’s popularity be waning?” The maintainer of the room explained this indeed to be the case–especially on cold or rainy days, when a visual inspiration can be only a few clicks away instead of a long walk to the library away. But the advantages of this physically based approach are quite clear: 1) the quality of images is better, as they’ve been hand-curated, and 2) there is the element of serendipity that comes from the messiness of it all that leads to happenstance encounters of new inspiration.

As I now approach the presidency of RISD in only a few weeks (I start June 2), I continue to be in wonderment of the many wonderful aspects of an art and design school that will certainly benefit the world of technology by providing new surprises like these.

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