Todd Bracher had graduated from Pratt Institute’s industrial design program and was working full-time in New York City when he found out he would be going to the Danish Design School in Copenhagen on a Fulbright grant—in three weeks. Studying abroad in order to get a more global view of design was part of his career plan. Still, hearing he’d actually won the grant caught him a bit off guard, says Bracher, who recalls listening to Danish language tapes on the way to catch the flight in order to learn a few common phrases. “But that experience taught me you can get thrown into something and figure it out. Once you know that, you realize you have no limitations.”
That was in 1999. Over the next 10 years, he lived in four countries, learning something different about design in each. In Denmark, he learned about honesty of materials; in Italy, about the importance of story in design; in France, about elegance in the way materials come together; in England about designer identity. After learning about branding when he moved back to New York in 2006, “I was able to bring all these world experiences together and exercise them,” he says.
That decade of immersing himself in a new culture every few years is an example of his passion for discovery. “Not knowing invites careful study, and careful study leads to discovery,” says Bracher, who designed the Distil Desk and Table for Herman Miller. He finds inspiration in places like physics, chemistry, and Cindy Crawford’s beauty mark, which inspired the Tod Table for Zanotta.
“I was trying to figure out what made her famous and it’s her beauty mark. If you take that away, what’s left?” says Bracher. “So what makes a room special? The idea was to create a table that is beautiful with something. It makes the room a little bit more special.”
“Not knowing invites careful study, and careful study leads to discovery.”
- Todd Bracher
Like that table, all objects exist in a context; they have to work with the other pieces around them. But when it comes to designing the object itself, Bracher subscribes to “irreducible complexity,” in which a thing is made up only of parts that are essential to its purpose. He uses the example of a mousetrap, which won’t work without the spring or the wooden board. It’s perfectly designed for its purpose.
Although from a completely different discipline, Charles Darwin is the person who has had the biggest influence on Bracher’s approach to design. Darwin, too, had an appreciation for objects well suited to a task. Darwin’s study of 15 species of Galapagos finches found that each has a beak that is perfectly adapted in shape and size to its source of food.
Whether natural or manmade, “Good design is about the series of parameters and requirements,” says Bracher, “and that drives the answer.” That’s true for all kinds of design, and the work Todd Bracher Studio does extends well beyond products. Bracher, who designed for Scandinavian luxury brand Georg Jensen in 2004 and a few years later became the brand’s creative director, says the studio has expanded into creative direction and strategic design. What’s next is anybody’s guess. For Bracher, the thrill of discovery never wears off.