Bruce Mau Design tells Tom May how an in­ter­na­tional mix of de­sign­ers, a fo­cus on brand mis­sion, and pop-up design stu­dios are help­ing it at­tract big brands world­wide

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Bruce Mau Design ex­plains how its in­ter­na­tional mix of de­sign­ers helps at­tract big clients world­wide

Launched by the epony­mous Cana­dian de­signer af­ter he left Pen­ta­gram in 1985, Toronto-based brand con­sul­tancy Bruce Mau Design has gone from strength to strength.

De­spite its founder depart­ing in 2010, the agency has con­tin­ued to win awards and at­tract big name clients from across the world, in­clud­ing Sonos, the V&A and ASICS. Here, we talk to some of its cre­atives, in­clud­ing pres­i­dent and CEO Hunter Tura, cre­ative di­rec­tor Chris Braden, se­nior strate­gic de­signer Kar Yan Cheung and graphic de­signer Kyosuke Nishida, to un­cover the se­crets of their suc­cess...

You pride your­selves on ‘mis­sion-driven design’. What does that mean, ex­actly? Hunter Tura:

It means brand­ing ‘the mis­sion’, rather than the prod­uct, ser­vice or build­ing. So we start by defin­ing the higher pur­pose of an or­gan­i­sa­tion, and fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing a brand plat­form around that man­date. That opens up so many new pos­si­bil­i­ties around how a brand can make mean­ing­ful and long-last­ing emo­tional con­nec­tions with its cus­tomers.

Chris Braden: It’s about more than just aes­thet­ics, so it leads to deeper, more mean­ing­ful so­lu­tions and opens up pos­si­bil­i­ties. Our aim is to help peo­ple re­think what it is they do. That’s one of the most ex­cit­ing parts, when you un­lock that mo­ment for them.

How dif­fi­cult is that to achieve in prac­tice? CB:

The older and more com­plex an or­gan­i­sa­tion is, the more chal­leng­ing it be­comes, be­cause you start to en­counter en­trenched ideas. Take for ex­am­ple, our work for Metrolinx, the tran­sit author­ity for On­tario.

His­tor­i­cally they’ve had su­per-smart en­gi­neers and pol­icy mak­ers try­ing to fig­ure out how to make con­nec­tive and seam­less trans­porta­tion across the city. But we’ve been help­ing them re­alise that the thing they’re re­ally do­ing is cre­at­ing con­nec­tions – be­tween peo­ple, be­tween lo­ca­tions, be­tween modal­i­ties of tran­sit – and to build an iden­tity that ex­presses that.

As an­other ex­am­ple, Sonos saw them­selves es­sen­tially as a mul­ti­room, dig­i­tal au­dio sys­tem... which is an­other way of say­ing they made speak­ers. But we helped them re­alise what they’re ac­tu­ally about is mak­ing the ul­ti­mate home lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. And that to­tally un­locked dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things for them.

How do you at­tract th­ese big clients? HT:

En­ergy can be a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing force, and I think am­bi­tious and for­ward-look­ing com­pa­nies re­spond to the spirit that our team brings into our projects. I make sure we es­tab­lish in ev­ery kick-off meet­ing that design is a fun process and if we’re not col­lec­tively hav­ing fun then we need to fig­ure out a way to do so.

We’re also less con­cerned about bud­gets than we are about am­bi­tion and val­ues. If we share a world view with the client that great design can drive growth, en­gage­ment and aware­ness, then we can find a way to work to­gether. Client size isn’t so im­por­tant: we work with star­tups and younger com­pa­nies as well as more es­tab­lished ‘legacy’ brands look­ing to rein­vent them­selves. ASICS is a great ex­am­ple of the lat­ter.

Kar Yan Cheung: We get a lot of referrals and rec­om­men­da­tions, thanks to our clients lov­ing

Bruce Mau Design re­veals how an in­ter­na­tional mix of de­sign­ers, a fo­cus on brand mis­sion, and pop-up design stu­dios are help­ing it at­tract big clients from all over the world

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