Bruce Almighty

by New Idiom


“If it’s not going to change the world, let’s move on.”
— Bruce Mau, Dean’s Lecture, Northwestern University | 02.19.08

The message resonating inside the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center at Northwestern University was simple and intensely optimistic: unlike any generation before us, ours is about daring to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.

Right now, it would take four planet earths to do all the things we want to do for 6 billion people. We are a living proof of 20,000 years of technological progress as we double our capacity every 12 months, at such an accelerated rate of progress we’re experiencing those 20,000 years every four minutes. If everything is changing, we can’t design the old way. Shifting focus from that knowledge, the question is now “what are we going to do”?

With that optimism comes possibilities and responsibilities. Instead of thinking about the burden, we’re being asked by the lion-maned in command to think about the impact we as designers can have. Bruce has asked us all to design not the product, but the aura of the experience. This patchouli-laden metaphor conjures up memories from my last experience with an aura reader where I realized that the tangible experience of being able to see my aura, an intangible highly electric force, both creeped me out and made me want to work harder at bringing more positive energy to areas where I was clearly drained of it. He challenges us to define the sustainable experience as something that not only mitigates negative outcomes and strives for positive ones, but generates positive outcomes. People embrace traffic because they love their cars. By designing for movement, we design for things that fit into places, like the ecosystem. But people have to want to change, and we assume that they do.

On that note, Bruce is coming to Chicago and I’ve asked Patrick Whitney, since he and Bruce are friends, if there are any big projects on the radar. The first project is at the top of the Sears Tower, a beacon of Chicago’s unsustainable infrastructure. The second one is in conjunction with the Shedd Aquarium and Lake Michigan which accounts for 20% of the world’s fresh water and is now at dire levels of being depleted as a natural habitat. If there is one thing Bruce does well that we can all learn from, it is that through design he shows us where we’re headed and then he puts you there in the future and shows you a whole new way of thinking. I hope that the Institute of Design takes this opportunity, as other schools in Chicago are doing, to partner on some of these projects through workshops or on a volunteering basis as they touch on all aspects of ‘what we do’ around here.