Earlier this week PSFK met with designer Bruce Mau. In addition to his work with Massive Change and Institute Without Boundaries, Bruce runs the design studio Bruce Mau Design with an interdisciplinary team of architects, writers, graphic designers, biologists, musicians, filmmakers, animators, strategists, and activists.
Art vs Design
We asked Bruce about his take on a holistic approach to art and design, and how this approach has influenced his team’s design process:
When I think about art and design, I think about the difference between push vs pull. Art is traditionally about pushing an idea or a message. Design is a pull practice. It’s about solving a dilemma, creating something that will change the way someone interacts with things.
I shared some related thoughts on separation on This I Believe. My work as a designer demands the intersection of these two great cultures of our time: science and the arts. In our society they mostly live separate lives, developing separate world views, distinct methods and segregated communities of thought and practice. The more I work as a designer, a practice that demands the constant negotiation of the boundaries and intersections of these two worlds, the more deeply committed I am to the foundation of science.
Technology and Art
Bruce gave us his thoughts on the integration of technology and art. He stressed the importance of what he referred to as the ‘invisibility of technology’: technology should enhance the message being delivered, but it should never be the subject of a piece of work.
As an example, Bruce pointed to Disney’s Turtle Talk With Crush, an interactive installation that appears in Disney theme parks. These installations are essentially an interactive theater space, where children can come up to the screen and talk with the animated character Crush from the movie Finding Nemo. From the child’s point of view they are at a movie, but one where they can actually hold a real conversation with one of the characters.
In reality, the interaction powered by a back stage actor; through a complex system of facial recognition technology and camera views, the actor can respond to the child’s conversation as if he is right in front of the child. The technology allows for a rich interactive conversation with what seems like a movie, but the installation is never about the facial recognition or any technology itself – it is entirely about the child’s experience.
Bruce also touched on the idea of how technology is redefining art from something that has classically been the expression of a single entity (the artist) to something that is increasingly more defined by collective human interaction. We at PSFK have seen this idea emerge in projects like Chris O’ Shea’s ‘Hand From Above‘ and Aaron Koblin’s work ‘The Sheep Market.’
Bruce pointed to the idea that in a globally connected world, there’s no such thing as externalizing problems outside of a company or organization. He believes that firms are starting to realize that there’s no way to ignore waste products from an inefficient system because ultimately they adversely affect they organization the same amount, just in other forms. Ideally, firms would be efficient enough to operate without the need to even consider pushing waste outside to ‘somewhere else.’ It is Bruce’s belief that this is a place all organizations must strive for, change towards and work to get to.
The Emerging Producer Class
Mau thinks that genuinely new social classes are starting to surface, drawing lines between consumers and producers of content. His examples here point to the wealth of information, empowerment, and community resources available through services like Etsy, Ponoko, BetaFashion, and Quirky; his case is that online networks have greatly impacted the structure of our social spheres by creating platforms through which creative thinkers can easily become producers and distributors. He tells the story of his mother, who grew up in a time when no such class as producers could even be conceivable because production was controlled entirely by large industries.