Design Indaba 09 || Day1 || Bruce Mau

Last speaker on that first Design Indaba day was Bruce Mau.  A large presence and  a vision to go with it.


He started off with a bang, presenting us with the core of his talk:  “The status quo is not working”.   If we rolled out the typical vision of the American dream way of life to the rest of the planet – we would need the resources of “at least four more planets”.

We need to look at the new responsibilities that we have as designers.  The problems we face – social, environmental, economic demand radically new ways of thinking.  And these are things which will not be solved by individuals.  We need to harness the power of the collective.  Thus the the Massive Change project.


Massive Change is an attitude that has manifested it self – so far – as a book, an educational program, a blog,  a series of events, a radio programme.  In essence, it is an attitude to design.  It recognises that design as being not just visual, but “one of the world’s most powerful forces. ”  In another quote:  “Design is … the human capacity to plan and produce desired outcomes.”

Bruce Mau’s talk is simply full of quotable quotes.  In articulating why design is so much more than  aesthetics:

“Design is energy, matter and intelligence that come together to from utility and delight.”

Explaining how the product of design is only one part of it, and one must take the entire process from conceptualization to crafting into consideration:

“The object is a still from the movie of design.”

There was a good deal of the “Yes We Can” spirit here.  In fact, Bruce Mau moderated an event at the Democratic Convention at Denver – the “Green Constitutional Congress” which led discussion about the possibility of a sustainable America.   This introduced the “In Good We Trust” project.


This will be a city wide biennial cultural event that bring great innovators together to ” tap into a dynamic local community of creative
thinkers, and together galvanize a citizen-driven movement toward
cross-cultural understanding and global cooperation.”

You can watch a video about “In Good We Trust” here.

Bruce is a great speaker, and also rather disturbing. In fact I must admit that he tripped a couple of my “evangelical” alarms.  You know, that feeling you get when approached on the train by the person holding the L Ron Hubbard books.

Which is probably hugely unfair.  Passion for a positive cause is not cool or fashionable, but desperately needed.


Some other ideas that I really liked were:

“The invisible people”

There are many people who work for good, and successfully at that.  But we never hear about them.  We are focused on the negative.  One of Bruce Mau’s objectives is to highlight the work of the small, grassroots, positive agents of change.

“I dont know.  And if I did, I would not tell you, as I would be stealing from you”

The above quote was about The Institute without Boundaries design school, Bruce Mau described the students frustration with their unstructured form of teaching which he calls “studio based immersive learning”.  The lecturer is no longer the source of knowledge, but helps the students explore the radically new ideas needed to solve today’s problems.


“The new design is forever”

Bruce Mau states that from now on forwards, we can no longer think of trends or fashion.  We need to plan for sustainability and permanence.

I also appreciated the importance he ascribes to art.  Artists are right there at the top of the list of his important people.  I appreciated this as up till then, few of the speakers mentioned the “A” word, even though their projects were as far as I could see, pure fine art.  He does, however, add that he only recognises the value of a certain type of artist.

“We can no longer afford the luxury of cynicism”

Which should make me bow my head in shame at my reaction to his semi-religious style.

I also appreciated his whole hearted adoption of all methods of social interaction and communication, and made repeated calls for anyone who shared his vision, to contact him.  Collaboration is the soul of his projects.  “Strength of a network lies in its diversity”.

“Everything is changing”

says Bruce Mau.  And:

“Design is our capacity to effect change”.



I found this interesting critique of Bruce Mau, written by Marian Bantjes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: