Starting as an entrepreneur Bruce Mau founded Bruce Mau Design in 1985. As an author he co-wrote the hugely popular S, M, L, XL with Rem Koolhaus and even served as creative director for I.D. Magazine in the early 90s. Still, these achievements only tell half the story of this innovative designer.

From northern Ontario to renowned designer

His origins are about as humble as it gets. Hailing from northern Ontario, Mau had no contact with the creative world in his formative years. It wasn’t until he got into OCAD that he came across any like-minded individuals. “It was mind-blowing to meet other people like me,” Mau recalls. “Other people who want to be artists, who want to be creative. They didn’t want to kill animals, they wanted to photograph them.”

Though Mau’s time at OCAD was one of his first brushes with third-level education, it wasn’t to be his last. Once established, Mau was approached by George Brown College to create a new kind of design course. It was here that Institute Without Boundaries was founded, the revolutionary design program that still runs today.

“I really wanted to make a purpose-driven, experience-based, entrepreneurial, design education program,” Mau explains. “I didn’t want it to focus on content. Four years later the content is irrelevant anyway, especially today. The real content is experience. So, we designed an experience program, where people would spend 12 months in the studio doing a project as a team. It wasn’t in a classroom, there were no classes per se. But, when you have a real purpose, on a very public stage, then you will break the box to learn — because you’re on the line.”

"It's not like I’m courageous, I just don’t know the dangers. Entrepreneurs aren’t more courageous than other people, they’re just not aware of the risks."

The public stage in that inaugural Institute Without Boundaries program was a real space for Massive Change, the organization that Mau founded on the principles of optimism, beauty, and innovation. Since then the Massive Change philosophy — which even comes with its own 43-point manifesto — has attracted colossal clients such as Coca-Cola and Walt Disney. Currently, the organization’s principles can be explored at the Work on What You Love exhibit in the Philadelphia Museum of Art until April of this year. After that, Mau intends to continue spreading the Massive Change method to other progressive enterprisers such as himself.

What makes a successful designer

According to Mau, the key to all this success is being oblivious to fear. “It’s not like I’m courageous, I just don’t know the dangers. Entrepreneurs aren’t more courageous than other people, they’re just not aware of the risks.”

The key to being a successful designer on the other hand is empathy. “You need to be able to experience someone else’s pain, understand it, and then translate it into opportunity,” says Mau. “In the end the designer is The Lorax, we speak for the trees. We’re the advocate for the citizen, for the user.”

In order to climb the ladder to success, like Mau did, it seems an equal measure of both is necessary.