OTHR

USEFUL / AESTHETIC / UNIQUE

MEET TODD BRACHER

It’s a cloudy day, but for a moment, the light in Todd Bracher’s Brooklyn studio is pure gold. Standing at the center of the room, the designer has unfurled a length of rolled-up slatted plastic. It’s a partition, he explains, crafted by Tom Dixon, for whom he once served as right-hand man. It’s the color of honey, and briefly, the space seems filled with sun.

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QUICK FACTS

Bachelor of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute. Masters in Interior & Furniture Design from Copenhagen Design School. Former Professor of Design at l’ESAD.

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SHOP

Kyou Sugar Bowl, Circular Spoon &
Creamer

CREDITS

Written by Shoko Wanger
Photographs by Emily Johnston
In collaboration with Freunde von Freunden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design was an interesting marriage for me because it combined materiality, solutions and empathetic creativity—the idea of identifying a need for something and figuring out how to solve it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Our projects are not just about business solutions. There’s poetry there, too."

 

Todd, who’s worked out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard for seven years, speaks about this partnership—and all other projects he’s had a hand in since—with the articulate ease of a designer whose every endeavor is the result of much deep thought and attentive, well-informed problem-solving. With 20 years of experience (including nine years working overseas), the New York native is now at the helm of his own strategic design practice, with clientele including 3M, Cappellini, Issey Miyake and Herman Miller.

Busy though he is, it’s clear he values the beauty in slowing down, a fact made evident by the porcelain cream-and-sugar set he designed for OTHR, conceived with a nod to the ritual of sitting down to a proper cup of coffee or tea. “It’s quiet, intimate,” he says, seated in a corner bathed again in cloudlight. “It’s always struck me as odd to see people in their cars with their humongous cups of coffee. Take time to sit down instead and have some afternoon tea. Relax. Enjoy.”

 

What led you to study industrial design?

I went into design because I wanted to be an illustrator. But I also had an obsession with physics. I wanted to be a scientist and I wanted to draw, but I didn’t know what that meant. Ultimately, I landed in design by way of drawing classes. It was an interesting marriage for me because it combined materiality, solutions and empathetic creativity—the idea of identifying a need for something and figuring out how to solve it. Actually making something doesn’t interest me as much. Our business sells licenses and provides strategies and ways of thinking. We’re not about building things out of a workshop.

Do you remember the first thing you created that excited you?

I designed a cafe table while I was living in Denmark. I had never made a piece of furniture before in my life. The first thing I thought was, if you and I are having lunch in a cafe, we’re probably surrounded by loads of people. It’s not private. So I designed a table with a fine frame that extended over it. That created immediate intimacy, even though it was meant to exist in a public space. Then, I designed little stools that didn’t have backs, so that you had to lean in in order to be comfortable. We used wood for the table that made you want to touch the surface. It became about going down the list of what makes an intimate conversation, and the end result was something very simple, very minimalist. It was only four pieces. But it was really effective. That struck a chord for me.

 

Much of the work you do today involves rethinking a familiar object or form in a modern context. At the same time, though, your designs often draw on something extremely elemental—a lobster shell, a pelican pouch, the movement of water. What would you say unites the different kinds of projects that you do?

Every one of my designs—whether it’s a chair or a building—is always about the user. That sounds obvious, but it’s about achieving a result that’s not about me. Instead, it’s about what that object needs to do. It’s almost like engineering in some ways. Think about an airplane wing. It’s beautiful because it’s designed to carry the right amount of weight. Its shape is based on aerodynamics. It’s built in a certain way to give it the strength and the flexibility it needs to function. It’s not like someone just thought it looked great. Who cares what it looks like? It has to perform. That’s what makes it beautiful. It’s completely true to what it has to do.

Nature works this way, too. It’s not about me; it’s not about opinion. I always use trees as an example. This tree is nicer than that tree—you would never say that, right? A tree is the result of an ecosystem. And the way I design is to consider what something’s ecosystem is. There are loads of things that define any given project: the market, financial constraints, client needs, et cetera. But tie all those things together with a singular solution—the way a tree does in its ecosystem—and you have, in my opinion, something that’s truly timeless and universal.

"I’ve always liked the whole ceremony of tea and coffee. But everyone ends up just racing through it. Hopefully things like this remind you to slow down a little bit."

Tell us about the sugar bowl and creamer you designed for OTHR.

As a strategic design studio, it’s a project that’s nothing like what we normally do. When companies are looking to enter new markets or to make pretty significant changes to their businesses—that’s where we typically come in. So to create a product out of nowhere is very different. It’s a bit more of a self-indulgent exercise: trying to make something personal that I would like to own myself. Usually, it’s never about me, ever, so this was a challenge.

The creamer and sugar set we created is very simple. It’s two containers that stack, so the milk stays covered and you can easily carry both from A to B. It also comes with a little silver spoon. Ironically, I don’t take sugar in my coffee, but maybe I would if I owned this.

How did 3D printing—and your choice of materials—impact its design?

Well, it’s ceramic, and with 3D printing, you have no issues with molding. That gives you a lot of freedom to create forms that would have been very difficult to make otherwise. And the black ceramic is quite beautiful, especially since the contents of each container are white. I’m curious what the other pieces of this set might look like, if we were to create cups and trays and other items. As is, it’s an incomplete story in a way.

What tips would you offer to someone who was to use this set?

It’s not so much about using, it’s about the use of it, if that makes sense. I’ve always liked the whole ceremony of tea and coffee. But everyone ends up just racing through it. Hopefully things like this remind you to slow down a little bit.

You mentioned that this project was a challenge for you. How do you work through creative blocks?

I’ve definitely had a few working on this project, I can tell you that. The way out is always to get more information, more data, more intelligence to help you solve the problem. You have to get educated. And the way you do that is from experience.

In this case, I needed to sit down and have a cup of coffee. That experience informed, say, the shape of the silver spoon. Its shape is such that you’re not going to be chasing sugar out of the bowl—it falls back in on itself. Noticing things like this creates a sort of domino effect of solutions.

"Our projects are not just about business solutions. There’s poetry there, too."

Circling back to the beginning: you landed in design while pursuing a passion for illustration. Do you still draw?

Typically, we do an illustration that’s representative of the work for every project we do. But it’s more of an art piece than anything else. It might include words. It might be a graphic. It might be a single color. It’s my artist’s side that wants to do this still—to find the poetry in what we’re doing. That gives it meaning, to realize that our projects are not just about business solutions. There’s poetry there, too.