Brodie Neill: on the relationship between nature and product design

Published:  September 28, 2015
Gemma Pass

Known for his bold, innovative and sculptural furniture design, it would be easy to assume that Brodie Neill’s influence stems from a love of mid-century modernist design and the futuristic imagery found in science fiction films. However, after having a chat with the Tasmanian-born, London-based industrial designer, it became clear that his award winning designs (attracting the likes of Alexander McQueen and Time Magazine) were informed by the organic and fluid shapes found in the wild environment of his Tasmanian upbringing and his integration of a ‘hands on approach’ with cutting-edge digital tools and technologies.


A finalist of this year’s Rigg Design Prize and a speaker at Parallels: Journey into Contemporary Making conference; desktop was lucky enough to catch up with Neill and pick his brain on the recent reappraisal of handmade and bespoke design and the importance of having a strong vision in the direction of one’s work.


You were born and raised in a part of the world that’s known for its rugged mountains, sweeping coastlines and strong history of traditional craftsmanship. How have your Tasmanian roots influenced your design practice?

Not only did I grow up there, I studied at the University of Tasmania. That’s where I learnt my craft. It was all very hands-on, making things. For a long time, I tried to fit into a European or northern hemisphere mould of industrial design (which I’ve been fortunate to do here and there) but it’s actually my hands-on sensibility to the materials that sets me apart on the international scene and I strongly believe that it comes from my Tasmanian upbringing, being surrounded by the wilderness and having respect for the materials.

Were you always drawn to the organic and fluid forms in modern design? Or did this stem from a particular person or place of influence?

I think it was always there. It’s an inherent kind of sensibility, a response to things, which is kind of instinctive to me. It’s hard to explain, really, but you see form in curves and you have that soft, organic sensibility to objects in the man-made world, which is influenced by the natural world. There are so many amazing examples right in front of us every day, from trees and insects to our own human form and the bones inside of us. And to be honest, that way of thinking was something that was present as a child.

I remember walking along the beach (I still do it today) collecting interestingly shaped pebbles and shells. My collection now is pretty international, but they’re here in my office on my desk. I just got back from Sri Lanka and I’ve got a couple of shells from there. I’ve got a couple from California, Australia, everything… that’s what inspires me; the beautiful forms and shapes that are celebrated in nature everyday.

ZX5FDUSYI1CHnqF8CR6AeDY9XRtzcAa1upvmSkGihy8You moved to America to complete your postgraduate studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004. How did the conceptualisation and generation of your ideas change with the use of digital tools and technologies?

They changed in the sense that everything became more boundless; everything became unlimited so it really freed my imagination.

The Rhode Island School of Design, out of all the international design schools, was probably the one that had the strongest connection to the University of Tasmania. It was an evolution but also a continuation of the same hands-on way of studying.

While other international schools were purely desktop or notepad design based, the Rhode Island School of Design enabled me to continue on with the application of digital design (which I had already started in Tasmania) and really concentrate on it while still adopting this hands-on approach and sensibility to my materials.

In 2013, you founded Made in Ratio. How have you found the experience of designing and manufacturing your work on a larger scale? What drove you to start the brand?

Throughout my twenties, I was working with Italian brands and doing big projects for Swarovski, Alexander McQueen and private commissions for galleries etc., which was incredible. But at the same time, you’re designing for others and you don’t have any kind of access to your own work. So, Made in Ratio started out as a personal project where I could design something, I could have it made, and we could realise the designs to their full capacity. It came about from someone who is passionate about making and design through experimentation. It was more of a hands-on exercise with initially only four designs and from there it has just kind of gone leaps and bounds.

TjH_zNiP5XzoE9pfcSStSmG_GlPEWGKcjjxSPJz-EkQWhat do you think has driven the recent reappraisal of hand made and bespoke design?

I think that it’s got to do with provenance and people. And people wanting to know where something is from, what the quality of it is. It’s a reassurance of their investment. I think you’ve probably got a breakdown of people being fed up with the crappy China-made stuff. You can buy it anywhere so I think people want to know a little more about the story behind something. But don’t get me wrong; people are very different. Some people couldn’t give a sh*t and it just comes down to the price but others can justify by saying okay, well, the wood is from a sustainable source here, it didn’t come far from the factory etc. There’s a growing social and environmental conscience about the way we buy.

What advice would you give to those wanting to break into the craft and design industries?

The advice that I’ve always kind of given to younger designers is to honestly follow your ideas. Don’t just try to fit into any kind of niche or pigeonhole. Your own ideas are individual and that’s always going to set you apart.







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