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“Graphic” Design?

While perusing the New York Times Magazine yesterday I came across one of those page-long interviews with notable individuals they have, where the writers treat Midwesterners like cutesy curiosities and manage to half-way extract the subject’s attitude and philosophy if they’re lucky. This past one wasn’t so bad though—featuring Bruce Mau, a rather interesting conversation took place in which Mau does what he typically does, talked about design in a much grander sense than most.

After spending the past year as an “art director” I sometimes forget that I once looked for “graphic design” jobs and even referred to myself as a graphic designer, but this particular interview sparked the internal debate later that evening as I drove to the bowling alley. The term “graphic design” never appealed to me that much, but if I told someone I was a “designer” they’d immediately ask “okay, of what??” Once I got into specifics, yeah, I sounded like a graphic designer, even though I’ve designed chairs and shopping carts.

Mau has an intriguing, highly intelligent approach that appeals to some and irritates others, an approach motivated by curiosity, wonder, and ambition. Projects for Zone Books and collaborations with the artist Douglas Gordon and everyone’s favorite Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas defined the studio, and I think it’s admirable that he doesn’t limit himself to those sorts of things despite the success they’ve brought him. On a personal note, I’ve always been interested in the studio’s work because unlike many other high-profile designers, he’ll work on just about anything—everything from designing exhibits, to imagining an urban park, to conceiving panel fabrics for cubicles. Instead of just designing posters for the next cool play or making the CD cover for some band’s newest release.

Massive Change is the studio’s next big thing and while talk about “change” usually bores the living hell out of me (not that I’m opposed to it—it’s just that people end up having the same conversation over and over again), this looks pretty cool. And the “Massive” part of the title is no joke, just skip over to www.massivechange.com for a preview of everything that goes into it. Mau himself clearly expects design to contribute something to the world, which flat-screen monitors and other yuppie-style collectibles do not succeed in doing. In his interview with the Times, he instead focuses on a device that turns seaweed into “pure H2O,” which if it actually works efficiently, could have tremendous impact all over the world. Presumably, he feels the same way about fuel cell technology which ideally leaves water as the only by-product.

Here’s the thing. It’s not exactly what MOST designers of any variety would think of. Hell, the training involved in understanding the science behind such a thing is incredibly difficult to master, much less knowing how to, you know, make it. It does, however, require intangible skills like an active imagination to conceive of daring, world-changing objects and Mau’s studio excels in this. He also briefly talks about how his studio has been commissioned to “design” the future of Guatemala for the next ten years—now we’re REALLY straying from what designers, in the conventional sense, know and understand. When you start dealing with an entire nation, you’re dealing with all sorts of things that different types of people with highly specialized training work on for years. The study of economics has been a formally established field for an extraordinarily long time and people still can’t quite figure out what causes cycles in the market. In other words, there’s a lot to this.

I applaud the ambition and the intelligence behind even thinking of tackling things that go beyond selling products or setting type the right way. Mau’s conception of design isn’t necessarily brand new, given that a few schools officially teach “experience design” (or something like it, whatever the title may be—consider the Institute of Design in Chicago), and that firms like the Doblin Group in Chicago still exist, along with Matter in Atlanta. Mau has simply been the most public, publishing a monograph that came in hot pink and getting the right type of exposure in the right type of environments. If you take the “world of design” (an artifical construct if I ever saw one) you can roughly divide it into two sections, one that’s concerned with beauty, the other intent on improving the human condition. No, they’re not mutually exclusive but I’d venture that designing alternative forms of energy creation is more valuable to human beings than the titling sequence for next summer’s action blockbuster. But I firmly believe that people who buy Ziploc bags and canned vegetables deserve to have well-designed packaging and see marketing messages that aren’t insulting to their intelligence. There’s room for both types. One is more “design” in the general sense, the other is a bit more…well, “graphic design.”

Do you think it’s possible and advisable for design and designers to move into some of the realms discussed here? Or do you think that doing so might dilute the profession and lead it down an even more ill-defined path?

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.27.2004 BY bradley
M Kingsley’s comment is:

>Do you think its possible and advisable for design and designers to move into some of the realms discussed here? Or do you think that doing so might dilute the profession and lead it down an even more ill-defined path?

Some designers become marketing people and call it 'branding', some become futurists and stick with 'designer'. Simply put, design is preparation and planning; and thank god someone's trying to set their sights a little higher.

On Sep.27.2004 at 03:04 PM
James Song’s comment is:

Everything is designed, even ideas. I think what Mau is trying to do here is admirable. I was straying from design professionally, looking to more challenging careers when I discovered that design encompasses EVERYTHING. Since my rediscovery, I have a much more acute sense of the world and its mechanics as well as its style. It's led me to an interest in everything from quantum mechanics to the fibonacci sequence as it occurs in nature, so I am particularly receptive to Mau's approach. As my favorite design teacher once said, "everything that has ever happened in the world has led you to decide on that particular design solution" so I think that as designers we have a responsibility to learn as much as we can about the world.

On Sep.27.2004 at 03:51 PM
szkat’s comment is:

we as "designers" change the form and function of furniture, environments, parks, books, maps, websites, fabrics, TV commercials, cars, movie credits, vibrators (thanks, I.D. and STEP magazine), and even paper itself. so what constitutes graphic design?

it seems sometimes that as a collective, we say "anything you can do, i can do it better." what does that mean? who are we? how does it come to pass, what kind of person develops, that gathers the skill and desire to make absolutely everything fundamentally better? and why should everyone listen to us?

...you can roughly divide it into two sections, one that’s concerned with beauty, the other intent on improving the human condition. No, they’re not mutually exclusive but...

i think the two are harder to separate than implied here. i think "designer" is more straightforward - I compare it to "they that concept" (concepter looks funny) - but "graphic"... that's where i think the distinctions need to begin. everything visual falls under graphic. but then again, what we're trained to do and what we desire to accomplish does include everything visual. i love annual reports, posters, CDs, (yeah, print is my forte) but even though i would love to design a car, i have no idea how.

to make a short story long, i think "graphic" should be changed to fit our specific talents. for example, i would call myself a print and environmental designer. Bruce Mau would be Jack of All Trades Designer... the popularity and continuing recognition of the design profession has led people to think that they all need to be Maus, when they don't. and i don't think the AIGA or Speak Up needs to make these distincitions, but we as individuals need to realize that it's okay for us to do so.

does that all make sense? it's complicated, obviously.

good choice of topic, bradley. cheers.

On Sep.27.2004 at 04:32 PM
chris grimley’s comment is:

Mau's posturing is right in line with what certain art circles have been mining for the last 5-10 years; namely that by appropriating science (at its most superficially metaphorical sense) they can gain some empirical cred. Mau casually throwing off the cultural shift of the iPod and then singing the praises of this H20 device reeks of malevolent opportunism. Let's not forget that he has managed to pull this off through the free labour of many people, most notably the Institute without Boundaries so wisely lampooned by Dean Allen a few years ago. Or that he sold most of his company to these fellows recently who hope that in purchasing BMD they can "build disciplines that are complimentary to advertising and marketing."

Now I think that Mr. Mau is talented, and he has done a lot to influence my thoughts and perspective as a designer. But this interview, and the LifeStyles book (about which time I really started to look at him with suspicion), and the MDC thing all have led me to look at what he does though a reality filter. (though i do believe that it is a topic worth pursuing).

On Sep.27.2004 at 04:45 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Though I would agree with the 'design is everyting' philosophy, doesn't this make everyone a designer?

Why should someone pay me to do something everyone can do: something that they do all the time anyway?

When we talk about graphic design we mean skilled creation and manipulation of visual messages. This is a different thing to design in a broader sense - as something everyone does - and different again to the design of tools, products, machines etc. Even countries! (not sure this is possible though).

There's no reason why the former and the latter can't cross over. Someone who is talented in one field can of course learn new skills and expand their area of expertise.

A nurse can learn to be a surgeon; a surgeon can learn to be a nurse.

But we shouldn't confuse either nursing or surgery for a general 'helping people feel better' that everyone does.

On Sep.27.2004 at 07:05 PM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

Mau's Ideation, postering and positioning can be directly attributed to the BAUHAUS and the ULM School.

The Institute of Design in Chicago is essentially Moholy-Nagy's American Bauhaus.

As we know, the Bauhaus cross pollinated all Design Disciplines with Commerce concerning Human Factors and Betterment of Mankind.

One only has to look at the total body of work produced by Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes, and Marcel Breuer.

Breuer contributed more to the world than the Wassily Chair.

If Mau can bring his Human Factor Ideations into Fruition.

He certainly has raised the Bar.

Not every Designer will be interested in leaving their Comfort Zone

to Partake Mau's Explorations.

For Fear of Grandstanding and not being taken Seriously.

On Sep.27.2004 at 07:15 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Figures that MDC would buy Bruce Mau's firm, they also own a portion of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an agency that in the past couple years really pushed the conventional wisdom of what advertising is and can be.

I've always been somewhat suspicious of Mau, in the same way that I suspect anyone who seeks a significant amount of attention--that, however, in and of itself is not such a bad thing, especially if it gives someone leverage to execute their ideas. All the press the studio receives, either positive or negative, certainly contributed to its continued success.

The Institute Without Boundaries? I wasn't able to open Allen's article, but when I heard about the program it sounded interesting--apparently Wieden+Kennedy thought so too, because they started their own school within the confines of the agency. This is a trend likely to continue, and yes, it IS free labor but it's not like it won't benefit those who partake in it, and it likely helps everything associated with the program.

Setting your sights high is extremely important and the only way we as individuals and as a society can hope to progress. It's scary because failure is usually the expected outcome the first 15 times you attempt something, and because it requires moving in different directions at inopportune times. This ultimately separates those who create and those who replicate.

But for all the good that lofty ambitions imply, they also frequently include potentially dangerous things too--such as unrealistic giddiness that leads to more bullshitting than action, or cult-like attitudes that seek to eradicate contrarian mentalities. If you're so obsessed with "doing something," reaching your agenda can supercede doing the best thing.

Mau's studio never struck me as dogmatic, at least not in anything other than learning and doing. It's not as if they pursue Eugenics as a legitimate form of population control or seek to destroy the lives and lands of others.

I think Mau's perspective is fresh; I frequently want to slap him, but, that's okay because at least he and his studio are not a string of zeroes desperately in search of a 1 for definition. Its better to shoot for the stars and fall short than it is either not to shoot at all, or accidentally blow your foot off.

On Sep.27.2004 at 09:18 PM
marian’s comment is:

I'll be going to see Massive Change at the Vancouver Art Gallery soon, probably next week, and I will report back, possibly in a long, ranty Authorial post.

Well, I'm trying to keep an open mind, I really am.

I have very mixed feelings about Bruce Mau. I've said it before, here and elsewhere. I've heard he's a great person, but when I heard him speak at the AIGA conference last year, I was skeptical of many of the things he said.

There is something of a "branding" action going on here, when Bruce Mau takes an interest in things (what a great name, by the way, don't you think?). I mean many of us also expand our knowledge outside of our fields, "discover" new technologies (and by that I mean read about them, or talk to someone who developed them), or become infected with new ideas which may, even, change our lives personally. But when Mau does it he in a sense owns it, or puts his stamp of approval on it, resulting in a media frenzy. Got a little something you're working on in the basement? If only you could get it in front of Bruce Mau ...

Is this bad? Well, not necessarily, but it seems to lead to a kind of instantaneous acceptance of said technology without what I think would be some appropriate questioning. Bruce Mau's brand says it must be good.

I wouldn't get your knickers in a twist about how what he does affects what you or we or anyone else does. The field of design is broad, which is why we carve our own little (or big) paths and call it whatever seems to make the most sense to what we specifically do. Myself, I've been leaning heavily on the descriptors "something-or-other" and "whatever-it-is" lately. Works for me, sortof.

I want to like and admire Bruce Mau, perhaps because he always seems to be smiling, but whether by accident or by design, his Personality seems to have taken over his person, and of that I am suspicious.

As for designing Guatemala ... heh, heh, well I'm taking this out of context, so of course it's making me rotfl. Until I read more about that in detail, I'll just say "no comment."

On Sep.27.2004 at 09:44 PM
chris grimley’s comment is:

a very interesting (mini) discussion, and one that should be continued in a larger way

marian, with regards to Guatemala, could it be he's trying to out koolhaas koolhaas?

On Sep.27.2004 at 10:14 PM
marian’s comment is:

Chris, heh heh, well to be fair I can (almost) imagine what it must be like to be Mau and Koolhaas, meeting, getting all excited about ideas which expand and eventually encompass everything in the world ... and actually having the wherewithall to pull it off in some form or another.

On Sep.27.2004 at 10:27 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

marian (a Canadian who I thought would know about such things) wrote:

I can (almost) imagine what it must be like to be Mau and Koolhaas, meeting, getting all excited about ideas which expand and eventually encompass everything in the world ... and actually having the wherewithall to pull it off in some form or another.

Well my dear, http://www.pdp.ca/Park_Design_Concept.409.0.html" target="_blank"> they began such a project.

http://www.archpaper.com/eavesdrop/eavesdrop_040604.html" target="_blank"> But parted ways. (Second item)

http://www.eye.net/eye/issue/issue_07.24.03/city/citystate.html" target="_blank"> Some people are worried about it...

http://www.yorku.ca/yfile/archive/index.asp?Article=1628" target="_blank"> ...but think it may turn out alright after all.

Who knows...http://www.andrewblum.net/Downsview.htm" target="_blank"> it may be beautiful.

On Sep.28.2004 at 12:12 AM
Seth’s comment is:

"No, they’re not mutually exclusive but I’d venture that designing alternative forms of energy creation is more valuable to human beings than the titling sequence for next summer’s action blockbuster."

I guess if you can make clean energy that's great, but I, for one, don't want to become a chemist or engineer or whatever. Isn't graphic design enough? Do we need to design cities and countries and technologies and environments? Is that the future of our discipline?

". . .everything from quantum mechanics to the fibonacci sequence as it occurs in nature. . ."

I don't even know what that is. And now that I'm curious I'll find a definition--so I'm not ignorant--but I certainly won't devote years of study to it. There are already engineers and politicians and scientists for those things. And can we really do better, or do we just want to think we could? Armchair scientists now? Are we as designers any more qualified to be doing any of this stuff than trained engineers and scientists?

What is graphic design then, if it means everything? I certainly don't feel confident enough to design a bridge or a space capsule or a cure for cancer or a roadmap to peace in the Middle East. I can maybe handle an identity system or a book jacket or even an annual report.

All this talk of "designing the future" (here and at AIGA HQ) is leaving me a bit confused about what the difference is between designer and engineer and scientist and politician. And where we're supposed to be. I was just starting to get the hang of 2D print design.

On Sep.28.2004 at 03:10 AM
Seth’s comment is:

>>ok. The fibonacci sequence is the golden ratio. I remember that term now. I guess I'm interested in that too, but my point was that we may be trying to include so much in design that we don't focus on doing graphic design well. That somehow, designing a great identity system or magazine or sign just isn't good enough anymore.

On Sep.28.2004 at 03:19 AM
Kevin McGuire’s comment is:

I like the idea that graphic designers do the same sorts of things as other people who create. We bring things into the world. Instead of knowing about cement, we know about slab serifs.

So, if the design mentality is present, all you have to do is swap out your medium and you'd have a successful architect.

Not quite, though. I think this is where knowledge of history comes into play. I know a decent amount about what has been done before in the world of painting, but I can't say the same about architecture. Assuming that I immediately know how buildings are constructed, I still wouldn't be as good an architect as someone who has studied what has been built in the past.

On Sep.28.2004 at 03:35 AM
Armin’s comment is:

This is definitely an interesting discussion and one that goes really well with our profession's underdog mentality. No, graphic designer's can't design Guatemala and they shouldn't be expected to. I am worried when designing opening title sequences is labeled as a frivolous activity — as opposed to devicing a system that turns algae into peanut butter; or whatever. Bradley, I see your point and I know what you are trying to say, but really, "graphic" design is what it is, graphic design. Whether we like it or not it is about setting type nicely, choosing pretty colors and fancy papers within, as Mark said, planning and preparation and I would add process — some people put more emphasis on the pretty type, others on the planning, preparation and process. This continued preoccupation that graphic design is "not enough" is getting a little weary.

I agree that we need to expand what we do, but only people with very high standards and determination can break the boundaries. Oh, and it also takes knowing the right people; you think Mau has a lab in his basement where he experiments with fungi? Unlikely; he teams with people who know how to do those things that are not designers. Breaking the limits of kerning takes much more than simply wanting graphic design to be more. If people want to start dropping the "graphic" part, that's fine, go with it, but to then diminish graphic design — in comparison to projects like Massive Change — seems useless.

On Sep.28.2004 at 08:08 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> seems useless.

Sorry, "useless" is a bad choice of word. It's important that we discuss how we can extend our reach.

I would revise my last sentence to say… seems like shitting where you eat.

On Sep.28.2004 at 08:12 AM
justin m’s comment is:

I see nothing wrong with individuals expanding their personal definitions of who they are and what they do. Public figures such as Mau provide an opportunity for other designers to either define or redefine what it is they do. They put design in the public's mind. Just like all those home improvement shows. They may not be the best of the profession, but they show what can be done and that design isn't just for rich, snobby people.

On Sep.28.2004 at 08:22 AM
szkat’s comment is:

This continued preoccupation that graphic design is "not enough" is getting a little weary.

few people have the qualities of Mau, and as long as we all say "wow, i should be like that," then the public may get into a "well, why aren't you?"

i agree that there's nothing wrong with people expanding on design, pushing and breaking boundaries, and putting design in the eye of the public — but to use Mau as a continuing example of someone leading the way for all of us is, i believe, an oversight. the idea that all of us can be all things to all projects is redundant and inaccurate. if you have the right mind for it, by all means. but if you don't, a lot of damage can be caused by neophytes trying to take over the world prematurely.

maybe what we should learn from Mau is a perspective and not a discipline. if you have great ideas, maybe the best path is to sometimes hand them off to people who know what to do with them. maybe that handoff goes to Bruce Mau, and maybe it goes to your grandmother, but we still need to keep in mind that sometimes we're not the right person for the job, no matter how exciting our idea.

i think "beauty" and "intent to change the human condition" have everything to do with each other, but "environmental designer" is not the same as "environmental engineer."

maybe Bruce is the one who should consider changing his title?

On Sep.28.2004 at 09:02 AM
marian’s comment is:

And can we really do better, or do we just want to think we could? Armchair scientists now? Are we as designers any more qualified to be doing any of this stuff than trained engineers and scientists?

Just hang on a second there. I did get the impression, perhaps from Bradley's original post, that some people think that B'Mau is actually getting his fingers in the pie of biophysics or whatever discipline strikes his fancy. Without being as up on all things Bruce as, say, Mark, I am certain this is not so. This is what I was talking about re "branding." Bruce takes an interest in the algae-peanutbutter project, probably talks to the people in charge, learns a little bit and presto, he's in the newspaper eating algae-peanutbutter on his toast.

[Yes, I know. It's just funny: thanks Armin.]

The man is, after all, human. I'm sure it takes all his time just to handle his studio, clients, family and the press.

When people achieve greatness through one means or another their ability to cross boundaries becomes that much easier. We can call up the scientists behind whatever cool project we read about in Nature too, but they're more likely to take Bruce's call.

Bruce Mau has a choice of what to do with his fame. He could just keep designing more and bigger graphics projects, or he can use his clout to meet interesting people in other fields and partner on, or endorse, other projects.

It has nothing to do with you or what you should be doing or aiming for.

Mark, there are many many things I don't know. I did actually talk to a Toronto friend only yesterday who was griping about that so-called park, so I had at least heard of it.

Your links were interesting, particularly the part where Mau suggests that Koolhaas' fame is what got in the way of the project. So first the fame enables one to do things one couldn't before, and then it hinders the process. Hmmm. There, but for the grace of god goes Mau.

On Sep.28.2004 at 10:20 AM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

suggests that Koolhaas' fame is what got in the way of the project. So first the fame enables one to do things one couldn't before, and then it hinders the process.

I would say that it is fame which enables, ego that hinders.

On Sep.28.2004 at 11:25 AM
Tan’s comment is:

This coming Monday 10/4, Mau is giving his Massive Change talk at our new, stunning downtown Seattle public library — a project he partnered with Koolhaas. It should be very interesting, to say the least.

The Koolhaas library is simply a modern work of genius, and easily outshines our Gehry EMP museum.

Weighing between Koolhaas and Mau is like comparing Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Their projects and contributions to culture and humanity is what matters most.

But back to the topic. Sure, I think Mau is overreaching. But more power to him. If I had the vision, the resources, and the reputation that he had — I'd brand, revitalize, engineer whatever thing, environment, or country I could get my hands on.

On Sep.28.2004 at 12:32 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

John Cage once advised, and Bruce Mau appropriated in a certain incomplete manifesto, that when paralyzed by not knowing where to begin, to begin anywhere.

It's best to start down a path than to sit around looking at the map.

Oh, Armin--I agree. Everything matters.

On Sep.28.2004 at 01:17 PM
Jason T’s comment is:

Demonstrating a variety of capabilities makes you more marketable. Call it opportunistic.

Design is as much about setting type and choosing appropriate colors as it is about problem solving. The value you bring to a client is defined by you. Organization, strategizing, planning, or management can all be part of the designer's bag of tricks. Is the Creative Director that points his finger to do this job or use that color any less of a designer? What's wrong with working in 3D space, hiring experts on board to work with you on applying type and manufacturing custom-textured carpet?

Cheers to Mau for demonstrating the Value of the Designer.

On Sep.28.2004 at 01:18 PM
Sebastian’s comment is:

More from What is a designer: Things, Places, Messages (1969) by Norman Potter:

"Every human being is a designer. Many also earn their living by design — in every field that warrants pause, and careful consideration, between the conceiving of an action and a fashioning of the means to carry it out, and an estimation of its effects.


There are many roles for designers even within a given sector of professional work. A functional classification might be: impresarios, culture diffusers, culture generators, assistantsand parasites. Impresarios: those who get work, organize others to do it, and present the outcome. Culture diffusers: those who do competent work effectively over a broad filed, usually from a stable background of dispersed interests. Culture generators: obsessive characters who work in back rooms and produce ideas, often more useful to other designers than the public. Assistants: often beginners, but also a large groupconcerned with administration or draughtsmanship. Parasites: those who skim off the surface of other's people's work and make a good living by it. The first four groups are interdependent, necessary to each other. It should be added that any desginer might shift from one role to another in the course of his working life, or even within the development of a single comission, though temperament and ability encourage a more permanet separation of functons in a large design office. Thus no value judgement is implied here, except upon parasites who are only too numerous."

I've been suspicious of Rem & Stimpy (sorry, Bruce) for quite a while now. Life Style was a very unnecesary, expensive and self-indulgent piece of nothing that wasn't really worht the dead-trees it took to make it. And the validity of RK's architectural posturing (we'll be kind and leave european flags aside) has been put under serious critical scrutiny by a younger architects and critics in the Netherlands. If the above applies though, people like RK and BM have a role to play. I do think that Massive Change seems like an interesting initiative in itself despite and not because of BM's involvement and I hope the project doesn't fade when his interests take him somewhere else. It will certainly become part of my list of frequented spaces. Bradley: Thanks for the post.

On Sep.28.2004 at 06:35 PM
Frank’s comment is:

"Cheers to Mau for demonstrating the Value of the Designer."

I agree with the notion that while many

people design, Graphic Design can only be

so many things until it becomes another type of

design such as Environmental or even Country Design.

I know there is a tendancy to not

be restrictive in our abilities...

Perhaps the terminology Bruce and others

like him should be addressed as:

"Rennaisance Designer"

I think it is good to have seperation

of subfields under the creative


...the confusion is that many of these

areas overlap with each other and may seem


That is ok and not necessarily a bad thing,

but I think we are pushing it too far if

all disciplines come under the singular name,


I do like that Bruce is helping raise

the awareness of design to the public though.

On Sep.28.2004 at 11:29 PM
Bram Timmer’s comment is:

I think as designers we're all looking to get into those other fields and expand our horizons regarding design but are left wondering where to begin the quest. Sure we've heard of this and that and we know that the oddly shaped object across the street had a sense of design to it, but what kind of design?

The term designer is something which in my eyes will never do justice to anyone. First off, when you tell someone you're a designer, people won't understand what you're talking about, even when you do go into details until you say a few magical words that the everyday man and woman seem to be able to grasp. Design is structured art, but remains art therefore designers might as well just be referred to as artists.

Thinning out the meaning of the word designer moreso than it already is just confuses more people as to what you really do. The term is still rather new in many parts of the world and can easily be mistaken by anything, even janitorial services. "Sure I'm a designer, I design cleanliness."

Graphic design just refers directly toward any graphical form. Which is easy enough to understand.

Designer is a word that should be taken from peoples vocabularies as should Developer. But it all boils down to the fact that a title doesn't make the person and that's why most of us have portfolios to showcase and explain.

On Sep.29.2004 at 02:11 AM
daniel b’s comment is:

Not to take anything away from Mau, but the idea of the "Rennaisance Designer" is not going in the direction our profession. As the population is enlightened to the importance of design, the scale of what design is will grow. With that said, we as individual designers will become more specialized and our task will become more narrowed and focused.

The best example : Doctors

100 years ago you had a doctor : that doctor was incharge of treating and curing everything

Today we have : pediatricians, brain surgeons, heart surgeons, anesthesiologist, orthopedist… the list goes on and on

100 years ago we had designers, today we have graphic designers, web designers, enviromental designers… Who knows what tomorow could bring? the colorsetting designer, whose only task is to determine the color of the project.

On Sep.29.2004 at 07:55 AM
Linda’s comment is:

I suppose you could take graphic designer to a larger sense, i.e. everything that we see and react to, we interact with--I believe all of it falls neatly into the definition.

For example, I was talking with my husband about just this topic, and he started spouting off products and creations and novelties that he and I either embrace or admire.

Every single item had been created by an electrical engineer.

"No way," I said, bristling at the implication. "We need designers to better these items; they might be good, but not on their own."

"But engineers by definition are inventive people," he answered. "A lot of times we are musicians and artists and other things when we're not being engineers. We are also designers."

He made me take pause. Just because I'm defined as a graphic designer does not mean that I have to limit myself to the traditional route. Since "graphic" can mean so much more, I feel liberated to create. Of course, I am still under obligation to communicate--but who says that I have to speak to others in the same way as well?

I'm ecstatic that Mau is so far-reaching. No, that doesn't necessary make him sucessful. That makes him a thinker.

On Sep.29.2004 at 08:24 AM
Steve Mock’s comment is:

I used to work at a place where all the 'creative' was upstairs. Then a while later somebody said, "You're a creative, then?" I thought that was a pretty good appropriation of adjective to noun. (In a day when 'parent' and 'office' are verbs.)

I never thought 'graphic' design covered it. Of course, that's what I tell everybody when asked ('cuz they get it) and that's what I put on my IRS forms ('cuz it's an official profession,) but really, there's so much more to do.

I think what Bruce Mau is doing is—theoretically—good. I can take or leave the word 'graphic.' No big deal. Is that the question?

On Sep.29.2004 at 09:20 AM
laura’s comment is:

I'm ecstatic that Mau is so far-reaching. No, that doesn't necessary make him sucessful. That makes him a thinker.

I agree Linda.

As designers we are constantly questioning the understanding of his methods, so how is eveyone else (ie: the public) suppose to comprehand? His goal should ultimately be to educate the masses on his brilliant ideologies. Make it logical and matter of fact for us, or me anyway.

On Sep.29.2004 at 10:12 AM
ian’s comment is:

wow. first of all, everything is NOT graphic design. design encompasses a lot of things, and graphic design is a disipline with in design, the same as industrial, environmental, interior, architecture, multi media, and on and on and on. if you are primarily focused on graphic parts of design then your a graphic designer. bruce mau is not focused on the graphic parts of design when turning an old military air field into an urban park. i wouldn't call my self a graphic designer either if i was involved in projects like he is.

On Sep.29.2004 at 12:17 PM
Rob ’s comment is:

Obviously, on the face of it, it just appears as if a well-known designer is using his fame to move design forward (design in the greater sense, not just graphic) and upward. It's great to see this kind of intellectual pursuit of a better world through design and if someone has the time to commit, then let them.

But, it's even more interesting, how this 'star's' personality makes the whole thing interpreted as, maybe on on the level. Clearly, anyone who calls their intern program the "Insitute Without Boundaries' is clearly into, as Marian points out, "There is something of a "branding" action going on here,...But when Mau does it he in a sense owns it, or puts his stamp of approval on it, resulting in a media frenzy."

So in a sense, this 'massive change' could be for real or it could be all croc. I would guess it's somewhere in between. Not knowing Mau personally, and haven't had the pleasure of seeing him either, I only know him by reputation. And that reputation, seems to carry a bit of luggage around.

I think it's always a concern when one cannot separate a project from its creator. What really struck me, the little time I spent on the web site, was how often the name "Bruce Mau Design' appears on the site. Certainly, if this was a goodwill effort, it would be devoid of commercial credit. And it's things just like that, those little details of self-recognition that add to one taking a more cynical look at this particular project, no matter how powerful the concept.

Mau clearly had a great mind, but as Mark points out, he may have a far greater ego.

On Sep.29.2004 at 12:33 PM
John C’s comment is:

I think that the progression of design as a discipline of artifact making limits the opportunity of the designer and our industry. I would assert that we have de-evolved as an industry, that our influence has become compartmentalized to the promotion of products and services for corporation. Meaning purely executional, at the end of the process. We should take responsibility to redefine our role in homogenizing our experience. Mau and others have evolved the idea of design to a way of thinking, one that challenges and inspire, being curious about serious problems socially and/or ecologically. While we may not be trained to tackle the important aspects of many of these issues we can ask questions, provide ideas to provoke, and use our abilities as communicators to bring attention and involve others to create change.

On Sep.29.2004 at 12:36 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

>Mau clearly had a great mind, but as Mark points out, he may have a far greater ego.

Rob, you're misinterpreting. I never said that.

My comments were made to better shade marian's remarks on Rem Koolhaas.

>I think it's always a concern when one cannot separate a project from its creator. What really struck me, the little time I spent on the web site, was how often the name "Bruce Mau Design' appears on the site. Certainly, if this was a goodwill effort, it would be devoid of commercial credit. And it's things just like that, those little details of self-recognition that add to one taking a more cynical look at this particular project, no matter how powerful the concept.

Currently on some New York City bus shelters, there are amazing posters promoting the http://www.playoutside.org/index.html" target="_blank"> Shakespeare Project. They were designed by James Victore; and I know this because of his huge honking signature placed halfway up the right-hand side. So is James' charity diminished because he signed it? What about Ivan Chermayeff's work for PBS or Lincoln Center? Huge signatures there too.

You were surfing the Bruce Mau Design website. Of course you were going to see his name everywhere. Most BMD projects have restrained and tasteful credits and in the case of S, M, L, XL, Mau was given co-authorship credit in recognition of his contribution — five years of work which almost bankrupted the studio — far above the usual expectations of a designer.

Visit the Massive Change website. There's a lot of material in each topic and several interesting conversations in the radio archives.

On Sep.29.2004 at 11:20 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Cruising through Bradley's article, a couple words caught my attention: Doblin Group, NYT Magazine and Mau. I was still in school when S,M,L,XL came out. While I'll never claim to have read the whole “book”, it was the attention and questions that surrounded it that had a profound influence on the rest of my education. The concept of design changed from surface to pushing ideas. Perhaps change would be a better word. I finished college and moved on to University where I discovered the Doblin Group among a couple other worthwhile names. Keep in mind that this is in Edmonton where the glory days ended when the Oilers sent 99 to LA in the late 80's. As the stories of BMD's exams floated around online, I wondered what it would take to be worthy of his attention in an interview. That quest led me to TED, NYT, and most of the volunteer design/not design stuff I do today. So what you say? If someone is optimistic as Bruce and the rest of BMD, why not let it be. Get off your arse and do something instead of complaining with skepticism.

Sorry for not coming close to answering your question Bradley, but hey it SU.

On Sep.30.2004 at 12:20 AM
Ben Hagon’s comment is:

I am a local designer to Mau (in Toronto) and here he is intensely disliked, this may merely be jealousy, or—my hunch is—that he defies the Canadian trait of modesty.

The thing that bothers me about him most is something Chris Grimley brought up much earlier in the discussion; most of his "grand" ideas are recycled (or outright copied), more recently from science and in the past heavily from the Art world.

He then dresses them up in nice, big, clean type and everyone thinks he is a genius.

Another debate lies in this nugget with regards to graphic design (appropriation) however it is cheeky of him to try and fob off other people's ideas as his MANIFESTO FOR GROWTH. And other such pomposities.

Credit must be given to him however for contributing to the current trend of raing the intellectual bar in graphic design. My thoughts are we will only last so long knocking out logos, brochures, and websites before we are felled by children, seniors, or some other violent force.

So here's to designing small impoverished nations! Good luck to you Brucey!

On Sep.30.2004 at 11:33 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

If you are interested in something, pursue it. Broadening horizons is rarely a detriment.

As for the 'industry' well, what are we talking about? Graphic design is just that. Graphic design. If you expand it, then it's something else. And there's already plenty of design disciplines out tehre. The more we work together, the better of we'll be. The more every person on this planet things about the design of the world, the better off we'll be.

On Sep.30.2004 at 12:21 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Ben: it's interesting to hear what the competition has to say about BMD. I'm curious to know what the rep of Hahn Smith Design in Toronto is. Their ideas seem genuine, but I don't work against them.

On Sep.30.2004 at 11:38 PM
Arnold Goodwin’s comment is:

I believe the opperative word is "design" not

graphic ________, interior________, industrial_______,set________., etc. The idea is to solve problems for our sponsors (clients typically) and one does that by thinking about possible solutions, not is this a "graphic design" problem? BMD may be reaching, ego centric and taking his firm out beyond their skill set and intelletual capability- but I think he's got the right idea- design is about solving problems at the essence of the problem- it takes imagination, a broad view and intuitition and insight after lots of questioning and listening. The modifier(s) (graphic, etc.) are simple a matter of training and focus and executional skills. I think you had it right in the opening when your first instinct was to idenify yourself as a "designer".

On Oct.01.2004 at 10:45 AM
Ben Hagon’s comment is:

Micheal -- I think Hahn Smith are regarded better than BMD. They are very quiet on the local scene though so it is hard to say. It is Bruce's bravado that irks the locals.

I personally enjoy HS's work, but as with most of the renowned Toronto shops they are too quiet and uninvolved for my liking.

Hope this is informative.

On Oct.01.2004 at 11:41 AM
Ben Hagon’s comment is:

Oops sorry— Michael.

On Oct.01.2004 at 11:42 AM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Ben: interesting and thanks for your honesty. There's a fine line between balancing self promotion for the sake of business and boosting for the sake ego.

Arnold: I found the CA article in your news section to be relevant and would recommend others to read it.

On Oct.01.2004 at 12:47 PM
Dan Donaldson’s comment is:

Maybe the value of BM and Massive Change et al is to act as an object lesson in the limits of design when its conceived of as an imposed structure.

Linda's example earlier of engineers who have produced excellent 'design' is very much to the point. Aircraft, for example, are not in much need of styling. When we say that their form is designed, we mean something radically different from what we mean we say that a big fat self indulgent and largely incoherent book of random thoughts about your studio was designed.

I don't know about you, but I recognize that I don't really want to fly in an airplane designed by Bruce Mau. Bert Rutan's exotic aircraft are only based on solid engineering principles, given form. It's integral to the creation of airplanes that the engineering and design functions be combined. You can't and wouldn't want to impose design as a separate discipline on aircraft. (Of course, what we're talking about is the best attributes of Modernism, which is not really Bruce's thing.)

The same with politics, in my humble (or not) opinion. The political and economic life of a country - say, Guatemala - is no less critical to the well being of its people than the integrity of an aircraft is to its passengers, and has to come out of a profound expression of the nature of the materials - in this case, people, history tradition and history. (Of course what we're talking about there is democracy. Whether this is Bruce's thing, I don't know.)

Bruce Mau seems to not be able to see this. The ugly implication is that Guatemala is a place where it doesn't really matter if the wings fall off once it's in flight, as long as it looks really cool on the runway in front of the presidential reviewing stand.

On Oct.02.2004 at 11:08 AM