The film cuts to a nighttime Greyhound ride to Toronto and the Ontario College of Art, where Mau learns about its publicity department and “the intersection of word and image” which he finds fascinating. His portfolio leads him to a job in London with the famous graphics firm Pentagram, which he does not find fascinating. He decides to devote himself to working for the public good.
Returning to Toronto in 1982, he co-founded Public Good Design and Communications and attempted to reconcile the reality of the 9 to 5 with idealism: “How do we use the power and creative energy we have to make the world a better place for more people?” he asks in the film. The group has worked for the Red Cross, the nurses’ union and small arts institutions.
Feeling that he had no education, he built his own, through people. His “library of people” included Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Eileen Gray, the Eames.
With Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, he created “S, M, L, XL,” a three-inch-thick, six-pound almanac of Koolhaas’ built and unbuilt structures. Organized into small, large, and extra-large buildings, the book is big, brash, and raw, with grainy and opposite imagery. With words and images rocking for position, Mau visualized the written word, giving the book the cinematic impact of a flipbook.
With “S, M, L, XL”, Mau rose to fame as the Andy Warhol of the page, in a form of high-impact intellectual advertising that sought to change the way readers process information. The book anticipated how the Internet was fragmenting language. On stage, the designer may speak in paragraphs and think in chapters, but Mau has broken down the page itself into soundbites, titles, and blocks.
As in Koolhaas’ book, the scale of Mau’s projects in the film scales from small to very large and even super large, as he moves from the designed page to the designed earth. To get to the super big, Mau breaks the boundaries of graphic design to include art, science and technology in what he calls a “factual optimism” that propels him from urban planning and branding. from the country to fairs and even birchbark canoes.