The Jonsson School

UTDesign® Mentor Establishes Program’s First Endowment to Honor Recognized Industrial Designer

Theodore Waddell

Theodore Waddell, born in 1930, was a globally recognized industrial designer.

UTDesign® was recently awarded its first endowed gift — a memorial opportunity fund in honor of a gifted inventor and designer — with a story decades in the making.

In honor of his father Theodore Waddell, Brewster Waddell established the UTDesign program’s first opportunity fund of $10,000 from a family foundation dedicated to supporting education and other initiatives. The Theodore Hughes Waddell Opportunity Fund for UTDesign will be used to support the signature capstone program at The University of Texas at Dallas that provides real-world design experiences to the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science’s diverse student population.

Theodore Waddell was a recognized architect and industrial designer, creating modern, functional pieces throughout the 1970s. One of his inventions which once graced Playboy magazine’s Christmas catalogue is now housed as part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City along with two other designs. The pieces are also in private collections where they are valued at thousands of dollars. One invention, however, never reached its full potential.

Theodore Waddell’s original lamp was marketed in 1972, but he faced a number of obstacles with distribution.

Theodore Waddell’s conception of an interactive, minimalist sculpture of a lamp with thin light rods — as many or as few as the viewer wants — surpassed the available technology of its time. A major modern furniture company attempted to mass produce the lamps in Italy, but more than half of the fragile glass lamps were damaged in shipment due to poorly designed packaging. Timing and channels of distribution from major department stores subsequently led to the project’s failure, and unfortunately, the project was shelved in 1972.

“The timing for my father’s lamp just wasn’t right,” said his son. “It was a bitter moment for my father because he had put his soul into this project. His designs never became the commercial success he had envisioned. But I always knew that the day would come when new technologies would allow us to relaunch his designs.”

In 2017, Brewster Waddell approached his father with the idea of marketing the lamps once again. Unlike his father, he was not an inventor or an engineer, but he had extensive experience in sales and marketing, particularly in Latin America. However, in order to adapt the lamps to current technology, he needed technical assistance.

He reached out to Assistant Dean Rod Wetterskog to sponsor a senior capstone team dedicated to modernizing the lamps. Over two semesters, the team successfully converted the original lamp to an up-to-date, Bluetooth, battery-powered, LED design that could be controlled through an app, while meticulously maintaining the integrity of the original design.

UTDesign students updated the lamp to current technology. Brewster Waddell’s new company is now marketing the lamp series to retail and hospitality markets.

A new company, Theodore Waddell Designs, is now bringing the updated lamps to market. Others from UT Dallas who joined the new company include Jere Baker, a student from the UT Dallas School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) and Bob Landers, an industry veteran from Texas Instruments Inc.

“We’re developing a prototype for sale to hospitality, retail and consumer markets,” Brewster Waddell said. “Unlike my father’s vintage lamps from the 1970s which are now valued at thousands of dollars, these will be available at a price point within reach of a graduate student.”

Sadly, Theodore Waddell died in 2018 before the completion of the project. To honor his father’s memory, he wanted to establish an opportunity fund specifically to support the capstone program.

“This gift comes from the family,” Brewster Waddell said. “We felt that a design program like this is the most appropriate place to establish his legacy.”

Brewster Waddell stays involved with UTDesign as a corporate mentor and a regular volunteer judge at the UTDesign Expos.

Brewster Waddell continues to serve the UTDesign program as a corporate mentor and volunteer judge.

“UTDesign truly provides real-world design experiences to students,” Wetterskog said. “Student teams may work with anyone from a major, established company to a startup where they have significant influence over the project’s direction. In addition to establishing this gift in honor of his father, Brewster Waddell has provided invaluable lessons to our students.”

His insights as a marketing professional are in many ways as beneficial to Jonsson School students as they will be in bringing his father’s work to market.

“My father was a gifted inventor, but he was not a marketing person at all,” Brewster Waddell said. “Many of the students I work with are brilliant introverts, similar to my dad. I can help students learn to deal constructively with criticism, build their social skills and work on teams. I bring a different angle.”

In addition to his work through UTDesign, Brewster Waddell serves as a member of the advisory council for the Master of Science in International Management Studies and a member of the advisory board at the Center for Global Business housed at the Naveen Jindal School of Management. Waddell also established an advisory fund in memory of his son Stone D’Arcy Waddell at the Jindal School.

Opportunity funds are permanent, endowed gifts to specific schools at the University. Contact Brittany Huber, senior director of development and alumni relations at the Jonsson School, to learn more about endowed giving.