After studying mechanical engineering at Bucknell University and graduating from Pratt Institute’s Master of Industrial Design program, Bruce went on to receive a MA and PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. As an anthropologist he spent two years living with the Amish of Indiana studying their material culture and the production and consumption of value. His dissertation work was published as “Ascetical Value: The Materiality of Spirituality among the Old Order Amish.”
Bruce, along with his wife and fellow Stamps faculty member, Stephanie M. Tharp established their creative studio, materious, in Chicago in 2005. “Materious” is an archaic word that means both “substance” and “substantive,” reflecting their concern for imbuing deep meaning, messaging, and value within domestic products. At times aiming for provocation and pertubation, while at others sustenance and service, their practice spans the four fields of commercial-, responsible-, experimental-, and discursive design. This four-field approach to design theory and practice was conceptualized by them and has been incorporated into design thinking and classrooms across the globe.
They have patented and licensed designs that are sold commercially, been awarded commissions from Moet-Hennessy and the Art Institute of Chicago, and also engage in self-production and wholesale/retail sales. Materious has exhibited in global design capitals like Milan, Paris, and New York, with their work represented commercially in Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, Russia, across Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Bruce and Stephanie Tharp are co-writing a book entitled Discursive Design – a realm of expanded design practice that they have helped to problematize and legitimize over the past decade. Recently he wrote, “Consumer Product Dispossession: Value Production through Rejection and Divestment,” for a soon-to-be-published Anthropology of Arts Reader (Bloomsbury).
Prior to the Stamps School of Art and Design, Bruce helped plan and build the Designed Objects graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He most recently was the Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to teaching, Bruce worked in the contract furniture industry within Haworth’s think-tank—the Ideation group—helping to bridge the gap between research on the built environment and implementable design solutions.