Reactive Books

All of John Maeda‘s work is amazing and inspiring, but I find his series of Reactive Books to be among the most engaging and thought-provoking.

Created between 1994 and 1999, each book explored the use of a different input: microphone, mouse, time, keyboard, and video. At a time when interactive media was trying to be more and more, the simplicity and focus of these pieces set them apart. Their visual simplicity allowed you to really pay attention to the nuances of the interaction. And their code-based design made endlessly playable.

These were pieces that inspired a whole generation of interactive media designers. Their influence was the seed of much of the work done by John’s students, when he was directing the Aesthetics + Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab. And, more personally, I remember showing them to my students and seeing, almost overnight, a change in their approach — an understanding of why programming is important, and a desire to create beauty through it.

Sadly, this work is on the verge of extinction. The books are no longer in print and very hard to find. And, while you can still download the software, because it requires a pre-OS X Mac, finding a machine that can run it is soon getting harder and harder.

Four of the five books: The Reactive Square, Flying Letters, 12 o'clocks, and Tap, Type, Write
The Reactive Square, 1994
Flying Letters, 1995
12 o'clocks, 1996
Tap, Type, Write, 1998
Mirror, Mirror, 1999