By Giselle Carr
Last Thursday, several of my classmates and I attended a lecture by visionary designer and innovator, Bruce Mau, at Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus. The lecture was part of the Graduate Communications Design Lecture Series for Fall 2010.
To open, Mau asked the audience a question: “What is a designer now?” Meaning, what was the role of a designer in the past? How has that changed over the past fifty to sixty years, and what can a designer do to address the unique challenges that we face today? How has design strategy become part of the new business strategy? Mau went on to describe design as a combination of science and art, brains and beauty, smart and sexy. He stressed that the problems we face today cannot be solved without both; the brilliant and scientifically grounded solution must also be extremely compelling and irresistible.
He described design as human capacity, and today’s challenges as simply a mirror of man’s ability to produce in an extraordinary manner. “What is evolving is our ability to design the world around us,” he stated. In referring to his book, Massive Change, he discussed the role of design as a problem-solver, and the designer as a “living revolution of possibility”. By creating a global network of entrepreneurial, design learning studios, collaborating across boundaries of culture and language, strategic design enables us to use new tools to tackle our biggest human challenges.
In discussing his latest undertaking, redesigning today’s schools for tomorrow’s world, Mau presented some of the ideas covered in his new book, The Third Teacher. Tertiary education is a luxury that only 1% of the world’s population has access to; Mau challenged the audience to consider what the world would be like if the other 99% were educated. “How can we take the most to those with the least?”
The education system overall is becoming more and more ineffective, especially in the face of the unique problems faced by today’s students. He showed us a sample of alarming statistics in the video documentary below.
In closing, Mau reiterated that our design capabilities are not necessarily about power and control, but are a huge responsibility. He encouraged the development of “Epipen concepts”, or solutions that have an accelerated uptake for those trying to solve the problem. He reminded us that the opportunities and resources available to today’s youth exceed those of kings and queens throughout history – “This is the most incredible era to be born, to be alive. The challenges we face are the challenges of success, not failure.” He left us with a few principles to keep in mind when trying to bring about massive change by design, through a network of what he called ‘challenge partners’:
- Purpose inspires learning.
Remember design is the first signal of intention.
- Worst equals Best.
Failure is a successful solution for a different problem.
- Public is critical.
Solutions must be open and accessible.
- Design is core to our future.
If we use existing systems, we will sentence an entire generation to death.
- Experience deepens knowledge.
- Renaissance teams are best.
Cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary network of ‘challenge partners’.
- Real can’t be faked.
- Experience is the content.
Knowledge is hard to let go of, but a shift in perception of learning is key.
- Design the system, not the object.
- The future will be beautiful (if we have one).