After talking with Todd Bracher, it is clear that he is a designer in the most fundamental sense. He’s a problem solver, forward-thinking and inspired by complex challenges and the depth of the stories behind them. His distinctive desire to continue learning and drive for discovery comes as a refreshing and rational approach to design.

While Bracher has designed for some of the most reputable companies around the world, his drive and passion are rooted in understanding brand identity and motives, market goals, and human behavior. With an emphasis on research and collaboration, equal parts of technical expertise, strategy, and design consideration go into his studio’s work.

Founded in 1999 and based in New York City, Todd Bracher Studio draws upon his international experience and a network of experts that he has built over two decades. He spent 10 years living, working and teaching in Copenhagen, Milan, London and Paris, building a repertoire of design knowledge unique to that of an American designer.

We enjoyed every second of our conversation with Bracher, who shared his perspectives on what he loves about design, new projects, and problem solving for the COVID-era.


Can you describe in your own words what kind of work you do?

The main two functions of what we do in the studio is mostly furniture design, and then advisory work. The advisory ranges from product road mapping, helping companies understand what to manufacture and why, so helping identify opportunities that are moving in the market. At the same time, we’re helping position brands, so we're not just throwing furniture out into the world. We want to understand the relevance it has to the business and how it can help push a company in a certain direction, it's relevance to certain markets or audiences. So those are the two halves of how we function.

How do you describe the balance between research and design?

Design tends to traditionally be the designers engaged with a brief, and a lot of reasonably good insights that might be in that brief. As a designer, you're supposed to execute the brief, and then you hand the product and design back to the company, and you hope for the best. You hope it's marketed well, you hope it's the right opportunity, you hope it's at the right price, there's a lot you just hope for.

For us it started early on. Around 2007, for example, we were asked to do certain things and we would think, "this makes no sense, have you thought about it this way?” We knew the market was shifting, we saw younger people were having influence in the workforce, and we said hey, we're not just going to sit on the receiving end of the brief, we're going to help write the brief, define the opportunities, drive the businesses for growth. That gives us more value for our company, as well as makes our products more successful, since they are tied to a metric of success, as opposed to “we hope it sells, we hope people think it looks nice.”

That's sort of the last thing we think about, is what it looks like. It's about if it’s right and relevant for the market.


What kind of team do you work with to support your research?

We're small. Tina and I are the day to day, we're the core of the business. I do the design, she's mostly working on the strategy. To be fair, we also have 18 of what we call “experts,” who start to tap into another layer of what we do. The experts are brought in as needed for bandwidth and for insights. We might be working with this type of architect, this type of technology or science, whatever it might be. We’ve developed a lot of partnerships over the years with people that are in and out.

What is the most important thing to think about when expressing a brand identity?

I might sound a little cynical, because I feel like a lot of the space is about the designer. But it's not about us, it's about establishing a metric so the client knows when we are winning. So rather than, "is it just nice?", we ask, “is it improving your environmental condition? Is it moving you closer to this new market you want to get to? Does it fit within your facility?” What we are interested in is if it lines up all the business objectives, all the human objectives, the cultural objectives. We start with the research into what are we bringing to the table to advance the business, and at the same time we want to be relevant to an emerging audience.

We have to design for what’s 2-3 years ahead, sometimes even further ahead, and not what we see today.


​ Are there any projects that were more challenging than others? How were you able to creatively solve for it?

This sounds so strange… The more challenging ones are the ones that say, “do what you like,” or “do something beautiful, or “we need another one of these that you've done.” For me, that’s really hard to do.

We like really complex problems and we try to solve them in a super simple way.

Have you had any projects recently that have been impacted with what's going on with COVID?

We’re done a lot of lighting design within our expert network. We work with a former scientist of NASA who was responsible for the light on the international space station. He wrote a patent 12 years ago about pandemic control with a specific wavelength of UV light that’s proven to deactivate pathogens, and all of a sudden, the flood gates have opened up. We've been partnering with this business and we're generating a lot of product now that's going to bring light into the workplace, retail and banking in helping create truly safe and healthy environments.


The light is invisible to you, it does no harm to humans at all. It retrofits right into existing applications and deactivates any airborne or surface borne concerns, not just of Covid, but also common cold, flu and beyond. We're really excited about these types of opportunities. There are about six or seven new products we're rolling out that incorporate light in elevators, et cetera, to bring healthy solutions to the world. To me this is way more interesting than making sort of a nice-looking sofa. It's really making a difference and that's what we find interesting.


How do you see experiential design changing moving into the COVID era?

I read a lot about what the workplace is going to look like and get asked a lot about it. Distancing, sneeze guards, barriers... that's not how you're going to win or defeat this type of situation. That's all temporary, in my opinion and provides a false security unfortunately. I believe the solutions will come from scientists and technology. When I see what this light can do, for instance, putting that in your office, you can have an office that you can move into today, given you have the right air circulation. I don't see the solution coming from our industry. I think it will come from technology. I've always said that the furniture industry should be acquiring technology companies, that's the future of workplace. I think it's close collaborations, integrations, that will be how we'll deal with COVID.

It's clear you’re most inspired by the story behind a product and solving for complex problems, but is there any product you'd like to design for that you haven't yet?

That's the question I get all the time in the studio. "What's next?" It could be a birthday cake. I'd be happy with that, just something different. Design, for me, is really a chance to learn. It sheds light on the anthropological, historical, scientific, cultural aspects, all the layers that go into any designing. And of course, the business.

For me, anything can be interesting. But we stay away from things that don't bring positive solutions to the world. In terms of companies, we're working on a designer and decorator space for a textile and wall and floor covering business. They're asking to start on a furniture collection. It was super interesting because it was the idea of starting something new from scratch, for a business that really believes in doing something different and right. I'm not interested in shopping for names and a brand. I am interested in brands that are looking to embrace the transformative nature of aligning a business opportunity with market relevance. ​ This is not often done ironically.


In what ways do you consider the product life cycle when designing?

We are soon launching a product with Humanscale​ that will be the most sustainable solution in this category. Humanscale is light years ahead of the rest of the industry. We’re designing it in ways where parts can't get damaged because we understand how they're used, we try to use less materials, create less waste. They [Humanscale] actually go out of their way to find alternatives to the status quo. They partner with businesses that are cleaning up the oceans, employing people that are doing things to improve our environment. Material science to create better solutions for our world. ​ That’s really fascinating to me and appreciate working with a company with such a thorough appreciation for doing the right thing.



As someone who has worked as a designer in the US and Europe, what do you see as the difference between European and American design, and how do you see the two influencing one another?

This is a huge conversation that can be had. Furniture businesses in Europe are owned by an individual. It's their passion. They didn't come from selling washing machines six months ago. It doesn't work that way there, it's a personal passion, a family heritage in many cases. ​ These times are changing however, with consolidation, and the longer generation more interested another spaces, that are in fact larger, more compelling, than furniture. Therefore, the future is unclear.

If you have a good relationship with a European company, they'll support your vision and it'll be ensured to the finish line, whereas in the US it's very democratic. There are people in meetings who’s names you don’t know, people that just came in from a different industry, and they might say they don't like the chair because they wouldn't put one in their living room. Design is born in the US more from a rational approach, whereas design in Europe is born from a passion, that's the really big difference. Its not a function of risk mitigation as the MBA’s are educated in the USA... in Europe, it is a way of life.

After all is said and done, there is a flip side, depending on which metric you use to measure. ​ Sales or beauty? I love making beautiful work, and working with the Europeans, though at the end of the day, I am drawn to the business of design, which is more interesting in the USA. ​ It is a rational approach, because it's how you can sustain a business. It's really hard to sustain it through passion. I spend a lot of my time doing that work also, because it really makes me feel good, it's where my heart is. I like to switch between the two, but they definitely don't fit together. European designers often struggle in the US and vice versa.

Are there any American designers or American design thoughts that have inspired you and that you see as doing something different in the world?

Living as an American in Europe for 10 years, you'd catch a lot of flack for being American in terms of some of the politics but also for the lack of relevance in design. Many would ask, "American design is out of touch. How do you feel about that?" There were a few companies where I was one of the first American designers, like Zanotta and Fritz Hansen which for me, I felt like a pioneer. It would be a tough argument with my coleagues. But then I'd say, "Well, hold on - Apple computers, Coca-Cola, IBM.” These are some of the greatest designs mankind's ever made. It's considered tech, but it's actually design at its highest level. That's inspired me. What Elon Musk has been able to achieve with some of his work, not so much in the execution, that's less important to me, but just in the visionary mindset. These are all very much designed-led businesses. At the same time, they're helping shape our culture. I'm really inspired by what I see coming out of the stage in that way, not so much in the furniture way, but in the "bigger D" design way… and honestly, Europe has to catch up on this front in my opinion.