‘Designers see the world upside-down. If things are bad, that’s good. If things are terrible, that’s awesome,’ Canadian designer Bruce Mau said in an interview in 2015. That’s exactly the spirit from which WDCD operates and the reason why we are honoured and excited to have Bruce Mau at WDCD Live Amsterdam.
‘You can’t solve everything,’ Mau admits in the interview with Curbed when asked if design thinking can solve big and multifaceted problems like environmental issues. ‘But you also can’t let the fact that you can’t solve everything paralyze you,’ Mau continues. ‘You have to accept your powerlessness and contribute what you can. So many systems need a fundamental reboot, that if you catalogued all the changes that were needed, you’d jump off a cliff. We have a responsibility to accept the challenges and engage as we can and not get paralyzed.’
Mau has been a pioneer in the use of design thinking for complex issues in both the corporate and social worlds. The author of Massive Change. A Manifesto for the Future of Global Design founded in 2010 together with his wife Bisi Williams the The Massive Change Network, a cross-disciplinary project committed to rethinking the ways in which designers can ‘do good’.
Mau admitted that he’s tempted to attack every wicked problem that comes across his path. ‘It’s a terrible affliction. I’ve realized I can’t take holidays anywhere but at a beach, because if I go to a city, I see it as a catalogue of opportunities,’ he said.
A product agnostic method
Even the situation with ISIS would need design thinking for an innovative approach. ‘That situation is incredibly terrible, so this is a great opportunity to use design thinking. It’s a method that’s product agnostic – it’s not just for creating, say, a building or a book or an experience. It’s a design method for solving leadership problems and innovating solutions to whatever the problem is.’
Fact based optimism
Mau’s optimism is catching, but is it really justified in the grim world we seem to live in now, the designer was asked in another interview. ‘I go on fact-based optimism,’ he answered. ‘If you look at the media, you’d think we’re going to hell in a handcart. But the reality of our time is that we’re more collaborative, global, connected, wealthy, mobile, than at any time prior in human history by a radical long shot.
‘The reality is we have pessimists, disasters and stupidity, but they are a rounding error on what’s really happening. We’re collaborating to solve problems that have been vexing us for a long time. Small pox is no longer ravaging human kind. Same with polio. We will eliminate polio, probably within the next decade. I go with the facts and don’t let the noise colour my perspective. As a designer, I have to be optimistic. I have to find opportunity. I cannot afford the luxury of cynicism.’