Massive Change by Bruce Mau

The Canadian designer talks to us about aligning passion, production and ethics to design the future

Bruce Mau at Blanc Festival | Ph: Marina Roca and Martí Pujol

Last weekend during Blanc Festival, Bruce Mau exposed his vision on designing the future and how Massive Change can help to make it more sustainable.

Bruce Mau was the Creative Director at Bruce Mau Design from 1985 until 2010 when he decided to fire himself. That same year he started the project of Massive Change with Bisi Williams. 

Massive Change is a unique collaborative project that aims to educate in the conviction that design is a fundamental tool in the social construction of the future, that designers urgently need to move from communicating to acting: redesigning lifestyles, infrastructures, social relations and models of consumption, based on sustainability and with unrenounceable beauty.

Also since 2015 he works with Freeman, an international events production and brand experience company, contributing with his innovative vision to improve the user experience.

Blanc Festival | Ph: Marina Roca and Martí Pujol

How do you define “Designer”?
That’s a good question. I started as a graphic designer, and I’ve been constantly asked by people about my work and how I do it. 30 years ago, I started developing a practice of design that is what we call ‘product diagnosis’ and that is not defined by a particular output in events, is defined by a process of asking questions and providing leadership. So I define designer as leadership, the ability of envision a future and systematically execute the vision. One of the things that designers have, and we don’t understand how powerful it is, is this ability. We provide this vision and we usually don’t charge for that. We ask for the client’s vision and we think we only illustrate it but in fact in making it we are actually creating it.
So, the common denominator amongst all the visual practices is to create that vision.

Is Design an ideology? Should designers be related to Politics?
Design has the capacity to lock onto an ideology. If you are a fascist, you will advance fascism. If you are democratic, it will advance democracy. I don’t think in itself it have an ideological bent, but it can be used for good or evil. I think it is very important for designers to understand the power that they have and to make sure they are doing things that they believe in and that they should be doing things that they are ideologically committed.
As for Politics, designers should be in the table and part of the conversation. I think what designers do more than other people is care for the users and their experiences. Designers obsess on how a person is gonna experience the design, whether is a product, an interface, a message, anything. We care about their experience as a citizen and that means we care about their context as an environment and community and therefore we care about the world around them as an ecology. Because you can’t have a successful citizen, a sustainable citizen in a toxic environment. Designers are very team into that logic of a citizen community ecology and therefore we should be part of the discussion and decisions about sustainability, ecology, infrastructures because the way we are doing practically everything is not sustainable. And we can’t continue doing it.

What do you have in mind when you talk about a “better world” and sustainability?
For me, the power of design is the ability to use beauty to make smart things more compelling. In other words, I want to use design methods to make smart ways of doing things the most attractive, most beautiful: the things that you want to deal and to make the stupid old ways of doing things, look stupid and old.
When I think about sustainability, I think about beauty and intelligence. Not sacrifice. Lots of people still think that sustainability is going to cost more and be ugly. And the reality is that this is not true because we can make smart things also the most beautiful, and there is such a profound urgency to do that. When we started working in Massive Change we saw problems going towards us, and there is an immediate necessity for designers to lead the path to a new way of working and living and we have the capacity of doing it.
Its going to take the ability to bring a lot of different pieces into a coherence result and the capacity of synthesis.

Bruce Mau at Blanc Festival | Ph: Marina Roca and Martí Pujol

How could citizens connect with Design?
I think that more than in any other time in history, designers, citizens and leaders, can connect to one another and instigate a movement. You can create a movement today where in the past would have cost a heroic effort. You can do it quickly and effectively and you can have an impact almost immediately. You can design a movement, if you want a specific outcome that’s a design problem. So, if the outcome we want is for people to move to sustainability, we can design it.

How do you feel about social media?
All the tools of connection are what really have changed the practice of design. I started in the Gutenberg era, when a photocopier that enlarge and reduce was a big deal! And when the computer happened, suddenly and very quickly, billions of people get connected. That connectivity meant that the world changed from opaque to transparent, you can look into things and see what’s going on.
When I started, if a company or a government put an image, that was the only thing you could ever saw, you couldn’t see behind it and know if it was true or not, the information was not accessible to most people. But now, if someone says something, you can see almost immediately if it is true or not.
This changed the perspective of design. If people can see everything, it means that they are seeing what we do regards on what we say, so you can’t tell a made-up story. If you have a vision, values and ethics you should apply those on what you are doing, and design based on those.

But… how could we know which information is true in the Internet era?
In any human endeavor there will be those who gaming the system. But you can see that the reality today is that the truth comes out. There is lot of noise and lot of lies but the truth overwhelms all that stuff and ultimately people will see it. I know it’s an optimistic perspective, but I think that the facts are in our side. There are setbacks but the underlying movement its forward. There are some people trying to drag us backwards, but the overarching reality is going forward.
The prospect of actually controlling the information is increasingly impossible.

So, Design can develop better persons or communities…
We can’t make better people, people will always be jealous or greedy, but we are also hopeful and inspired with positive things. We don’t have the sense that we can redesign people, but we can redesign the environment, the possibilities or the tools. What we do at Massive Change is to show people that they have the power to change things and we put that mindset in the hands of as many people as possible, and we try to make sure that they experience what means to design their life.


Bruce Mau at Blanc Festival | Ph: Marina Roca and Martí Pujol

What is Massive Change? What actions do you design there?
In this century practically, everything that we do it has to be redesigned, the way that we are doing things is still archaic, still XIX. To make a change we need a new mindset, and this is really what Massive Change is about, changing the way that we think about families, about movement, about housing, manufacturing, food and consumption. Everything that we are doing needs to be reconsidered. And it’s the biggest business opportunity in human history, because the people that will do it will be the wealth creators of the XXI century. That’s where I think designers must begin to see how much wealth they create and participate in that wealth because they can direct to positive things. And when they do they will read the benefits.
We developed a toolkit called MC24, with 24 principles, and we are working on how to build that in a way that anyone can access. And we apply those principles on projects of all sorts: we are doing a project on recovering ocean health for the next generation, and a project on the relationship between mothers and babies and how do we support and design the learning experience.

Tips for young designers?
One of the most important MC24 principles is “work on what you love”. It seems like a soft and general thing to say but in fact when I give presentations, the people that come to talk to me afterwards, they are all trying to solve that problem. There are students that can see I work on what I love, and I commit my energy to things that are making the world move forward, but they have to get a job and make a living and they wonder how I do it. The underlying logic on “work on what you love” is to make sure you make alignment between your passion and your output. And that could mean you have to sacrifice for a long time: I started living as a student for ten years and I lived very modestly so I can work on things that will really make a difference. It allowed me to do the work I wanted and when it went out to the world and it had a very pure signal, a very pure message about what I was interested. It was really true to what I am, and it wasn’t compromised to things that I am not committed or that are politically wrong for me.
Specially for graphic designers, we have the ability to say anything, if we are not careful.

How would you design a festival?
I have a unique position in that because one of our clients is a company called Freeman where we produce 15.000 events a year and my role there is to reconsider the experience in these events. One of the things we don’t do very well is to design for the senses, we only design for the eyeball, we don’t take advantage that we are full human beings all together. If you think about it in so many events, the food is awful. You go to an event for an incredible experience and you are eating bad pizza. We need to use beauty to demonstrate what is possible. What we are working on is to move the experience from a consumer (something is happening and I am consuming it) to a participatory experience where we are producing it all together. Most of the conferences are chosen by a small group of people but they are 4 years behind what is going on. The solution is to make the assistants create the event and make it more about them and less about few people and their agenda.


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