John Maeda The Reactive Square 1994

  • Not on view

Maeda is a graphic designer, artist, and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. In his work computation is a powerful method for uniting expressive and analytical thought. His designs, generated directly from written algorithmic code, have influenced the way the Internet and digital media look today. Maeda's Reactive Books, a series of five printed books with digital components on disc, are seminal works of interactive design and are poems of human-computer interaction.

The Reactive Square, the first Reactive Book, is an adaptation of Kazimir Malevich's painting Black Square (1915) for the dynamism and motion of the digital realm. It presents nine compositions that translate sound into motion graphics. Maeda's children provided the impetus for this project; he sought a way to simplify their interactions with the computer. Rather than awkwardly manipulating a mouse or keyboard, a user of The Reactive Square simply talks into a microphone and the square reacts and morphs in response.

In all, the Reactive Books compile fifty–two compositions that explore a spectrum of expressive possibilities for interactive media. The second book, Flying Letters, is a compilation of interactive typographic pieces. The third book, 12 o’ Clocks, explores the theme of time by implementing time-based behavior into motion graphics. Tap, Type, Write, the fourth book, pays homage to the typewriter through the computer keyboard. A fifth, unpublished book, called Mirror Mirror, uses video input as a means of interaction.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, p. 138.
.1: Vellum cover with letterpress typographic design on front; 32 letterpress illustrations; letterpress text includes typographic designs and page tabs. .2: Compact disc for use on computer
.1 book: 6 3/8 x 4 1/2 x 1/4" (16.2 x 11.4 x 0.6 cm) .2 disc: diam. 3 1/8" (7.9 cm)
Gift of the designer with additional support from Samsung
Object number
© 2021 John Maeda
Architecture and Design

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].