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This week Marketplace Tech is exploring South by Southwest Interactive, the tech-oriented event that draws tens of thousands of people to Austin, Texas every year.
We spoke with designer John Maeda, who is at SXSW to talk about designing for the tech industry. A graduate of MIT and former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Maeda is now a design partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. He talked with us about his first Macintosh, the tech industry's diversity problem, and how design can make technology more accessible.
The year you started at MIT — 1984 — is the year that the Apple Macintosh came out and your parents got you one?
Sure did. Brought a Macintosh to MIT and people made fun of me.
Because you were a weirdo?
At MIT we are all weirdos so that’s okay. It’s the fact that the Mac didn't look like a computer. It had pictures on it.
How did that piece of technology influence your approach to design?
I remember the time I first touched a Mac and it was so much faster at graphics processing. I could draw an ellipse. Drawing ellipse used to take like ... sitting there [saying] "Ahh, draw that ellipse!" And the Mac was flowing with you.
In your role at Kleiner Perkins, you work with companies to build and design from the beginning. At what point in that process do people start to notice good design?
People's first notion of design is ... pretty stuff. And if you're there, I have to get them out of that. It’s about taking an idea and giving it a system behind it because design doesn't happen by buying a part. It happens by having people who can design.
Is there a design solution for the tech industry’s diversity problem?
Well, it’s a systems problem, really. The question is how do you design the system to enable people from different backgrounds to participate?
How do you do that?
Let me give an example. When you recruit for a more diverse student base, you forget that a diverse population will not stay on your campus if there aren't more role models like themselves. I would argue often at MIT, even at RISD, we need more people, more faculty around to role model for. So that’s a systems approach.
What’s a piece of technology that you really enjoy using, that you interact with and you just really appreciate the design of, that’s not a laptop, a smartphone, [and so on]?
Anything we use with our hands is going to feel good. Like a spoon or chopsticks or our glasses. Why do they feel so good? We've spent hundreds of year improving those ... So when we think technology is hard to use we have to remember, it’s like a decades worth of experimentation. So it’s going to get better. It’ll take time.
What role do you think design plays in getting people to adopt new technology? Something that people might even be a little bit skeptical of?
Technology, by nature, we fear because it’s hard to do something new. It’s easier for younger people because they don’t know they are going to die. Older people are like "I am so done with that, I’d rather have fun instead of figuring that new thing out," right? Young people [are like] "Who cares," right? So design helps to bridge that gap. It makes it more interesting. But I want to caution, because design that’s just about desire — the "wow" — is not enough. My friend who designs for Muji — the brand Muji in Japan — talks about how he designs for what’s called the “after-wow” effect. The “after-wow” is: You've bought it, you bring it home, you've had it for a month, you’re sitting there and saying, "Wow, that’s really awesome."
How does one create that? What’s he doing?
I am glad you asked that question. It takes time. Taking time is what is so difficult in the tech industry, which moves so fast.
What are the the tensions of that working in a VC firm?
A lot of my role is to create time for people, to be able to advocate for: "Hey, you know, this design needs more time or this design team is really getting there, so let’s support that," which I find is important.
It’s that time again, the Federal Reserve is meeting later today, and once again many will spend their time parsing the Fed’s words for any hint that an interest rate is coming.
If rates go up, some economists think there will be a land rush to scoop up homes to lock in low interest rates.
The only problem says with that theory says Sterne Agee Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza is that even with today’s sweet rates, prices are too high for too many.
“If we don’t see the wage and income growth needed to fuel the demand, then we will continue to see a sluggish housing market,” she says.
Even though higher interest rates would mean more homes are out of reach. Zillow economist Stan Humphries says he’d welcome higher rates.
“Home buyers for too long have been looking at the home market through this distorted lens at very low rates which is leading them to bid up prices in a lot of metros and instead they should be looking at home prices through a clearer lens so they get an accurate read on how expensive homes are,” he says.
Humphries says new rates would suggest the Fed sees a strengthening economy.
One where more people have money in their pocket, which Humphries says is what the housing market really needs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases annual figures on employment for veterans every March. There’s a familiar story that veterans from the post-9/11 era have had an especially hard time finding work. However, the numbers supporting that premise turn out to be elusive.
There is this striking graph from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University:
This chart from Syracuse University shows that veterans ages 20-24 have higher unemployment rates than older veterans, and than the general population. But other data isn't broken out.Courtesy:Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Affairs
"If you look back to about ten years or so you start seeing a real spike," says Nicholas Armstrong, the Institute's research director. "A gap in terms of unemployment being higher for vets that are ages 20 to 24."
However, that’s a small group — small enough that the gap isn't always statistically significant, according to Jim Walker, an economist who tracks veteran-employment numbers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "That group, there's very few of them," he says. "It has a very high error rate."
The Syracuse chart also leaves out other numbers that seem like they would make a useful comparison, For instance: What about 25 year-old vets? What happens when those younger vets turn 25? Armstrong’s group hasn't tracked those stats over time.
It’s not that the data undercut the familiar narrative. Only that I haven’t seen an analysis that demonstrates that story.
Neither has Kate Kidder, a researcher who looks at veterans issues at the Center for a New American Security. She says veterans groups, lobbying for resources, do push stories about out-of-work veterans.
"Individual stories are compelling," she says. "And it’s also — a number of these folks were coming back as the economy was tanking."
War crimes prosecutors ordered the arrests, believed to be the first that are directly linked to the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.