My Four Favorite Design Quotes In The Age Of LLM AI

John Maeda
5 min readMar 3, 2023
Pair of scissors where one blade is labelled “cognition” and the other is labeled “context.”

There are four quotes that have stayed with me for the last 30+ years, that I’m pulling out of the past for the upcoming 2023 #DesignInTech Report on Design and Artificial Intelligence.

One is by the late Nobel laureate and CMU AI pioneer Dr. Herbert Simon (1916–2001) who had an impact on economics and design, in addition to computer science. And the second is by MIT computational design and AI pioneer Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and founder of the One Laptop Per Child project; the third is by MIT design visionary Muriel Cooper (1924–1994). Lastly, the fourth is by Harvard and MIT computational design OG-est OG William J. Mitchell (1944–2010).

Enjoy! And please check out the 2023 Design in Tech Report at designintech.report when it comes out on March 12, 2023!

Favorite Quote #1: Simon’s Scissors

“Human rational behavior is shaped by a scissors whose blades are the structure of task environments and the computational capabilities of the actor.” — Herbert Simon, “Invariants of Human Behavior” in Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 1990, p.1–19

I’ve kept AI pioneer’s “scissors” metaphor for how the brain works in past Design in Tech Reports. I recall Dr. Simon’s using it at a time when I was really struggling to understand the relationship between design and artificial intelligence.

Simon’s metaphor seems to work perfectly in this new age of LLM AI where one blade is the model and the other blade is the memories. When you cross the two blades together with interactions like chat, you immediately feel the power of intelligence that is relevant to *you* (i.e. *your* context). For anyone who has used ChatGPT extensively, you know what I’m talking about.

When you contrast that to conventional machine learning methods where you need to manually train a model, it feels more like sharpening a single blade. It’s laborious. And it can only be wielded by an expert bladesperson with limited capabilities.

On the other hand, scissors can be used by everyone. It can cut smooth or straight shapes. It’s much easier to use than a blade. So I often think of Simon’s scissors chop-chop-chopping away so elegantly for the first time in…

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John Maeda

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Currently VP Design and A.I. at MSFT.