Brooks Atwood is a creative force that exudes confidence and cool in equal measure, the sort of confidence of someone who would wear a t-shirt with an illustration of themselves alongside the tagline–‘design like a rockstar’.
For all of his craziness Brooks Atwood is definitely passionate–passionate about design, passionate about teaching, passionate about technology and passionate about failure. And his passion and enthusiasm is infectious.
Speaking in Brisbane for the ever-intriguing Portable Presents series, Brooks opened by describing creativity as being akin to being kidnapped–scary, mentally challenging and with no way of knowing where you’re going.
He then dived into a break-neck paced intro to his design philosophies–‘challenge the everyday and question the mundane’, ‘embrace failure’, ‘never forget to be sexy’, ‘go big or go home’, ‘say yes to everything’ and ‘never apologise for your creativity’.
Brooks explained how his design process, much like his presentation style, takes it to the extreme and then ropes it back in to the edge of crazy and failure to create something amazing.
His studio, POD Design, is a motley crew of architects, interior designers, product designers and student interns who work across all projects. Brooks firmly believes that the future is multi-disciplinary design and that no one can afford to specialise in just one area in the current economic climate. He also believes in the benefits of collaboration and works with those outside traditional design realms–physicists, sound designers, metal casters–to realise his projects.
Complimenting his mantra to ‘design like a rockstar’ is his mantra to ‘fail like a rockstar’. In a recent architectural project he presented 26 model houses to his client in their first meeting. None of the houses were a success, instead the client compiled his favorite aspects of each which fed into the final design. The failure of the early models informed the successful end design.
Brooks also likes to defy the limits. He had a dream to design a chair made from a single sheet of metal, using nothing but folds to give it strength. After four-years of failures they finally perfected a design and launched the 6kg Sylki chair made from 1mm thick metal at last year’s New York Design Week.
Another project involved creating an environmentally sustainable seating option for a New York park. Brooks’ Seed Chair was made from organic materials like dirt, mud and seeds and dissolved into the ground after use, growing flowers and plants in the park. More permanent chairs made from recycled milk bottles from a recycling plant across the road complemented the Seed Chair. The chairs failed to win the design competition.
Brooks actively tries to cultivate an admiration for failure in his staff and students, believing that if people are afraid of failure they won’t contribute. On the first day of class he asks new students what they would attempt if they knew they could not fail. He doesn’t want them to see failure as a negative but rather as the process that leads to greatness.
Known for embracing technology, Brooks has been one of the early proponents of 3D printing. He sees printing something that could be produced by hand or other methods as a waste of technology and actively tries to trip-up the machine to create something that wouldn’t otherwise exist like the Ring of Fire or Lusx door handle.
In closing his Portable Presents talk Brooks shared his Top 20 Design Tips before encouraging audience members to ‘design everything’, believing that everything has an opportunity for design or to be designed.
This article was based on an event presented by Brooks Atwood from POD Design as part of the Portable Presents Series on Tuesday 4 June, 2013.
What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? Is failure the process that leads to greatness?