Brooks Atwood, professor of industrial design, founder of POD DESIGN, assistant director of the Idea Factory and teacher at Parsons The New School for Design is obviously someone who rarely sits still. He’s a creative centipede and oh yeah, he has funky hair. While most people know him from Home & Garden Television, he’s constantly busy pushing people to squeeze out their best ideas. Find out why he likes Lady Gaga, toilet handles, coral – and why you have to fail more.
It seems like you have multiple roles? You’re a creative director, a professor, a teacher. How do you manage all of that?
Brooks: “I don’t believe in one particular role, because that would be limiting. I like to spread my wings. You know, like those Victoria Secret model wings. Like spread my wings and fly. It’s all about creativity and innovation. I just go wherever I’m able to do that. And where I’m able to be as creative and free as possible. It does seem like I’m doing a lot of different things, but they’re all connected. It’s always about pushing the boundaries and that’s what I try to tell my students. ”
Design like a rock star! – that became your philosophy didn’t it?
Brooks: “Yeah and I also want to practise what I preach. I want to teach my students the same exact thing. So I like pose the question: What would Lady Gaga do? She wouldn’t show up in a normal outfit, she would show up in a space egg, with LED lights, carried on some naked men. Why can’t you do that in design? Not that exact thing, but think about something in a different way and you’ll be able to come up with some new things.”
What’s your thing with Lady Gaga?
Brooks: “I appreciate her creative direction. She’s a brilliant creative director and she’s doing a good job with the brand of Lady Gaga. I use her as an example a lot because everyone knows who she is and that she does wild and crazy things. She’s not a wild and crazy person though. She’s just a normal person like everybody else. In fact, she grew up on the upper West Side of New York City, she’s not nuts. But she branded herself in a really interesting way. I’m trying to have my students understand that they are also a brand. Lady Gaga promotes people to be themselves, she does have a good message about being free and her little monsters.”
It looks like everything in the world is so well designed, how do you compete with that?
Brooks: “The way that people interact with things, was called user experience, but that’s not enough. You have to tell stories in a new way. Every smart phone company is coming up with the same shit. How are you going to make yours different from everyone else? Because they all have the same features. What experiences are we giving them that others don’t have.”
Is ugly the next beautiful?
Brooks: “I love the mundane, simple things in life. Like toilet handles – really easy things and simple things. Because people tend to overdesign things. People are now designing things because they can. It’s not benefiting the user or experience for anybody. That’s when it gets annoying to me. Brands are trying to innovate in ways that don’t lead to innovation. You have to be in tune with the universe.”
Does ugly design even exist in your world?
Brooks: “Sometimes something is so ugly, that it becomes beautiful, because it’s so perfect and simple. Like this old pink telephone.”
What does your home look like?
Brooks: “A totally eclectic, nuts….a scientific laboratory – meets taxidermy, meets a porn star filming studio. It’s a lot of weird things, I call it a cabinet of curiosity. Leather and tiger prints, brass and bones and some porn. Like the Kate Moss Playboy that just came out. Which is awesome.”
Do you collect any weird things?
Brooks: “I like to collect scissors. Like rusty, metal scissors. I don’t know there’s something really beautiful about them. And coral! It’s like 3D printed stuff, but then made by the ocean.”
You’ve mentioned in one of your talks that failure leads to brilliance. Should we teach people to fail better at school?
Brooks: “I believe that you should teach people that it’s ok to fail. That’s one of my main mottoes in class, I first tell my students to get rid of their girlfriend or boyfriend and after that I tell them to not be afraid to fail. All I want them to do in my class is to fail. Be free in failing. Experiment, test and fail. And if you do that over and over again, eventually it’s going to lead to new ideas. It takes a lot of guts to fail.”
Here’s a question we’ve stolen from you: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Brooks: “Haha! I would run for president! I was president in junior high school; I had a really fun time. If I knew I wouldn’t fail, running for president seems like something really creative. Everything about the president is designed. Every press conference, every watch, every tie, every piece of hair on his head. To full on design the whole thing, that would be super fun for me to like brand myself as the president of the United States. And an astronaut….or flying in wing suits. Let’s see…I would like to work with BMW and design a future car.”
What would you like to design for space?
Brooks: “I feel like colour needs to be in space. Like giant round rooms with bright colours. All these movies like 2001 Space Odyssey, it’s all fucking white! I feel like you should have some David Bowie with you. Like pictures with flying colours that change, based on your mood. Space is really amazing! I love to blur the boundaries between space and inside, or space and furniture. Since there’s no gravity, there’s no reason to have furniture. We’re going to be able to totally reinvent what space even is.”
Who do you look up to?
Brooks: “My parents – for allowing me to be myself and encouraging me to be myself. And my brother and sister for supporting me through this long hard journey of a creative person. I’m really digging Marcel Wanders these days. He’s really doing some cool projects. There’s an architectural office called SO-IL there doing some cool and innovative stuff too.”
What’s your favourite question?
Brooks: “Why not? This is a really good question, because it challenges people. People have so many great ideas and they just don’t do them. Who cares? Have some guts. If it fails, you’ve tried it. Life is short and you’ve got to try stuff. Having regrets would be the absolute worst feeling on earth. I live to have not regrets.”