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Designer behind ASU’s brand named newest Herberger Institute Professor

Designer Bruce Mau stands in front of a slide reading "Design is leadership. The capacity to change the world. It is not constrained to the visual."

Designer Bruce Mau delivered his inaugural lecture as the newest Herberger Institute Professor at Neeb Hall on March 27. Photo courtesy The Design School/ASU

April 24, 2024

Bruce Mau, co-founder and CEO of the Chicago-based holistic design consultancy Massive Change Network, has joined Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as its newest Institute Professor, working alongside current Institute Professors Wanda Dalla Costa, Maria Rosario Jackson, Liz Lerman and Daniel Bernard Roumain

Mau’s academic home is in The Design School, where he will serve as a professor of practice in graphic design. Mau’s partner in work and life, Aiyemobisi “Bisi” Williams, who co-founded MCN with Mau, has also joined the institute as its senior advisor to the dean and director.

During his inaugural lecture March 27 at Neeb Hall, Mau talked about his experiences as a designer, author, educator and artist, including first encountering and collaboration with ASU President Michael Crow shortly after President Crow joined ASU.

Mau was tasked with bringing the design imperatives outlined in Crow’s “A Manifesto for the New American University” to life around the ASU campus. To do so, Mau proposed using existing challenges and orienting the entire university toward purpose and entrepreneurial learning.

“Designers see possibilities where other people see barriers,” Mau said. “We have the responsibility to bring optimism, whether we like it or not.”

Institute Professors work across the institute on a number of different initiatives and programs, with the goal of promoting cross-disciplinary progress as well as trans domain activities with the university community and across the city and state. They demonstrate new ways for artists, designers and students to thrive on campuses through a spirit of enterprise, discovery, innovation and change.

“Bruce’s influence on and contributions to Arizona State University as we know it today are significant,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean and director of the institute. “So much of what we think of as ASU’s brand comes from the work Bruce did with President Crow early on to center design in translating Crow’s vision into the New American University. The institute is looking forward to designing the future with Bruce.”

At ASU, Mau will contribute to growing the visibility, reputation and impact of Dreamscape Learn, an ASU Fourth Realm initiative, as well as work on design-related projects with InnovationSpace and other initiatives in The Design School.

In January, Mau and Williams helped organize the world premiere screening of “I Have a Name,” a film directed by artist and activist Jon Linton, founder of Let’s Be Better Humans, at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, in partnership with the Herberger Institute, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Building on Linton’s “I Have a Name” street photography series, the 40-minute film examines the plight of people who are homeless and underserved populations in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with Linton, the film’s executive producer, Adam Bronfman, and Arizona Jews for Justice founder Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, as well as a design workshop around the issue of homelessness led by Mau and Williams.

A serial entrepreneur beginning at the age of 9, Mau became an international figure with the publication of his landmark “S,M,L,XL,” designed and co-authored with Rem Koolhaas.

He founded the Institute without Boundaries in 2003, a purpose-driven postgraduate design program at George Brown College in Toronto, and it is there that he and his students co-created the groundbreaking exhibition and best-selling book “Massive Change.”

Another one of Mau's publications, “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” a 43-point declaration on sustaining a creative life written in 1998, has been translated into 15 languages and has spawned a multitude of creative interpretations that are widely shared on the internet to this day.

Mau practices a life-centered design approach to help his clients envision and articulate their purpose and future. Across nearly 40 years of design innovation, he has collaborated with leading brands, companies, organizations, heads of state, entrepreneurs, renowned artists and fellow optimists to create positive change and strategic impact across a broad spectrum of projects. 

Mau evolved a unique design methodology of 24 Massive Change Design Principles, or MC24, that can be applied to inspire solutions to challenges in any field or environment at every scale.

The MC24 principles underpin all of Mau’s work — from designing carpets to cities, books to new media, global brands to cultural institutions, and social movements to business transformation — and they are the subject of his book “MC24: Bruce Mau’s 24 Principles for Designing Massive Change in Your Life and Work.”

Most recently, Mau collaborated with Julio M. Ottino, former dean of Northwestern University’s McCormack School of Engineering, on “THE NEXUS: Augmented Thinking for a Complex World — The New Convergence of Art, Technology, and Science.”

Building on the mission of Massive Change, Mau and Williams created Massive Action, a series of seminars with specific research projects as case studies, to inspire and empower 100 million designers who can accelerate positive change through life-centered design.

A global multidisciplinary research demonstration of proof and possibility of designing a better future, Massive Action launched in September 2022. The inaugural project was Massive Action Sydney, a collaboration between MCN and University New South Wales Arts, Design and Architecture (UNSW ADA) to translate MC24 into action prototypes that address Sydney’s most urgent challenges. Mau was named an adjunct professor and member of the UNSW ADA Academic and Executive Team.

Mau has served as a visiting professor at institutions worldwide, including the program in Graduate Architecture and Urban Design, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; the Getty Research Institute, California; and the Central Academy of Fine Art, Beijing. He was named the Cullinan Chair at Rice University, Texas, and was conferred a Distinguished Fellowship at Northwestern University, Illinois. Mau is the recipient of the Design Mind Award from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the AIGA Gold Medal and six honorary degrees. He was named an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the RSA, London. 

Mau’s work and life story are the subject of a feature-length documentary, “MAU,” which premiered in March 2021 at SXSW Film Festival Online.

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