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Processing Life with Bruce Mau

2 minutes

Life Style is the first book by Bruce Mau that collectively captures and documents his creative process. The book illustrates Mau’s intellectual approach on design and the implementation of his idea in detail as it relates to a collaborative working environment – in particular his studio.

Life Style was published three years after S, M, L, XL – another foundational book for designers. The two books work in tandem as S, M, L, XL is his manifesto on architecture, while Life Style focuses on graphic design rather than on space itself.

In Life Style, Mau reflects on all things design – from books to logos to branding. But this isn’t a book about output as much as it is about process. And Mau’s way of revealing his “design thinking” is to walk his audience through every detail of his approach and process. For example, Mau dissects his first book called Zone ½ (1985) by revisiting his initial mock-up of the book alongside every page that he designed. It is here that the reader is able to witness Mau’s approach to problem-solving for he believes that whole design is connected to the details and the details to the broader culture that experiences it.

Life Style is organized by Mau’s thinking process, which forces the reader to grapple with every aspect of a project in order to understand the design process as a whole. In fact, Mau believes that design can not be segmented from life itself. One cannot exist without the influence of the other. And if anyone is ever going to push the boundaries of design, they must be aware of this relation, which certainly includes design’s relation to the designer.

Mau chooses to include a little bit of everything in Life Style. It’s a collective experience in anecdotes, essays, images, and process documentation. Midst an industry with such recent intrigue in “design thinking,” Mau’s manifesto of sorts, in many ways, stands as a young designer’s primary text on design process. As a book that is 600+ pages, it is arguable that Mau could have communicated his thesis within half of the pages, yet at the same time, the intricate detail may be what is most valuable to a (young) designer. Regardless, his approach can only be fully understood and experienced through each step of the process.

In the end, Mau’s overall approach and writing style embodies the entire purpose of this book – to represent a certain kind of “life style” – one that integrates every aspect of the design process include thought, word, and image. Mau is undoubtedly wrestling with what it means to break through homogenous design midst a culture that is fueling this very thing. Life Style is ultimately a commentary on our culture’s experience with commercialization and the designer’s role in this space. A young designer should feel both comforted by the possibilities of design and humbled by the realistic nature of the industry. In fact, as Mau might suggest, it may be more appropriate for the design community to start evolving from its intrigue with “design thinking” and explore what it means to experience “design living.”

Life Style is ultimately a commentary on our culture’s experience with commercialization and the designer’s role in this space.

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