When the Rhode Island School Of Design (RISD) announced in December that John Maeda, guru of technology and design at MIT, would be its 16th president, there was reason to anticipate an infusion of geek consciousness at the 130-year-old fine arts school. But Maeda has fashioned a career that is equal parts artist, designer, and humanist. While steeped in the inner mysteries of computers, he has never restricted his vision to what's behind an LCD screen and says he won't expect students to limit theirs. “What I'd like to add is my own take on what I think is the future of expression,” he says. “It's not about technology per se. It's about quality.”

Currently associate director of research for the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Maeda is known as a relentless advocate for simplicity in the digital age, a welcome concept for any architect, designer, or artist struggling to keep technology from squelching creativity. He has produced one-man exhibitions of contemporary art, designed products, and shown interactive furniture. Arriving at RISD this June, Maeda will succeed Roger Mandle, who is retiring after 15 years and after raising $105 million in the college's first major capital campaign.

Once the announcement was made, Maeda launched a blog to connect with RISD's 2,300 graduate and undergraduate students. He says he's not worried that the school that produced movie director Gus Van Sant, architectural artist David Macaulay, and glass wizard Dale Chihuly “hasn't engaged” technology to any major extent. “It's a pretty poor investment to throw computers at an art school and hope they come up with something original,” Maeda says. He does hope to focus RISD on “what's coming 10, 20, 30 years down the road” and to figure out what the world needs from art. He thinks the answer is “joy.”