bruce mau 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.

conversation with bruce mau 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.

conversation with bruce mau bruce mau 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.

conversation with bruce mau 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.

conversation with bruce mau signage for the walt disney concert hall by frank gehry by bruce mau design

conversation with bruce mau s,m,l,xl by rem koolhaus and bruce mau

conversation with bruce mau signage for the the seattle public library by O.M.A. by bruce mau design

conversation with bruce mau glimmer by warren berger with bruce mau

conversation with bruce mau signage for the MoMA by bruce mau design