image © designboom
local designer bruce mau was perhaps the most anticipated presenter at conversations in design: a world
without oil. mau’s talk presented a decidedly different perspective on issues of sustainability. rather than
promote a technological solution to a future without oil, mau encouraged the audience to design
alternative solutions that made sustainable living the ideal choice, not just the logical one. he described
solutions that were both smart and sexy, combining the two in an irresistible package. designboom talked
with bruce mau to find out how behaviour is preventing us from progress and why young designers
should be optimistic.
massive change book by bruce mau & the institute without boundries
what is the biggest hurdle between us and an oil free world?
I think it is actually human behaviour. if you think about it, we already have enough. e.o. wilson a life
scientist once said that we could already get to a one world sustainable practice with what we already
have. so we don’t need to invent new things, if we just change the way we behave. but we have a
mountain of proof that we are not going to change out of an altruistic moto. in other words, even if we
understand we should do certain things we don’t. this is true even of people like me who are committed
to this way of thinking.
I was recently having dining with a few friends who are prominent environmentalists and we were all
talking about the things we were working on. I brought up what e.o. wilson said, that if the whole world
lived like americans, we would need four additional planet earths, but if the whole world lived like the
people sitting at this table we would need thirty five plant earths. so even people who are committed to
sustainability aren’t going to change. if you watch al gore’s movie, an inconvenient truth, almost all the
photographs of him are in a plane. so we see that the behaviour is not going to automatically change,
we have to design the change. we have to design new ways of doing things that are more compelling
that the old.
image © designboom
how have issues of sustainability altered your work or process?
I think it became a kind of underlying logic and I think that is the right place for it to be. ultimately
everything we do has to get to perpetuity. a lot of the work we do with our clients is actually working
with them towards a condition where they can do what they do in perpetuity and that is very different
than not doing it.
we were working with coca-cola on a large-scale sustainability program and we did a presentation in new
york. this kid came up to the microphone and said “why don’t you just stop making coke, wouldn’t that
be more sustainable?” my client was there with me and he answered it from coca-cola’s perspective,
which was quite corporate sounding. but I said, I don’t want a future without coke, I actually want to
have a coke in the future. I just don’t want to leave a toxic legacy or steal from my kids with what I do.
I want them to have it too, but not under those conditions.
massive change exhibit by bruce mau & the institute without boundries
what is your dream project?
my own studio. every aspect of it.
what advice would you give to young designers?
i think it is the most amazing time in human history to be alive and working. don’t miss that, don’t lose
sight of that. it is hard to remember that in the day-to-day struggle to get a job and work. you have to
realize historically, what is going on is one of the greatest transformations in human history and designers
are at the focal point of it. it is an awesome time to be working.
signage for the walt disney concert hall by frank gehry by bruce mau design
s,m,l,xl by rem koolhaus and bruce mau
signage for the the seattle public library by O.M.A. by bruce mau design
glimmer by warren berger with bruce mau
signage for the MoMA by bruce mau design