Donald Strum: Behind Great Product Design
By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell
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Donald Strum, principal of product design at Michael Graves Design Group, drew a standing-room-only crowd at the Business of Design Stage on Friday, June 21, at Dwell on Design. Strum briefly introduced the work of the eminent architect before delving into the inner workings of the office's new line of homewares for presenting sponsor jcpenney.

The Graves office just finished a 14-year relationship with Target, and are thrilled to "move away from the plastics," as Strum puts it, with its 250-piece line for the department store. For this collection, Strum and his team have embraced materials like terra cotta, stainless steel, glass, and acacia wood. A tremor of surprise rippled through the audience as Strum revealed one of the guiding influences for the collection: celery. Previous objects out of the Graves office have been inspired by the hand feel of an egg, and for this one the firm looked to celery stalks for how the objects should feel.

Here's Michael Graves (front) along with Donald Strum (back right) in one of the jcpenney shops-within-a-shop dedicated to the Graves line.

Here's Michael Graves (front) along with Donald Strum (back right) in one of the jcpenney shops-within-a-shop dedicated to the Graves line.

It was fascinating to see how initial sketches made by Graves ultimately transformed into finished products. Strum gave special attention to the Michael Graves Design Toaster made of stainless steel and copper and cut to look like a loaf of bread. When it came time for questions, one of the first was "Where in Southern California can we buy these things?" Strum said that he'd check, but a clear Graves fan in the crowd, without missing a beat, shouted out "Glendale."

Here's a trio of vases from the collection Strum discussed in the talk. The ceramic Footed Vases (left and center) come in a bronze finish and celadon. The Cube Vase (right) shows how classical forms continue to inform Graves's work.

Here's a trio of vases from the collection Strum discussed in the talk. The ceramic Footed Vases (left and center) come in a bronze finish and celadon. The Cube Vase (right) shows how classical forms continue to inform Graves's work.

Here's the Michael Graves Design Toaster which is made from stainless steel and has a copper handle. Strum described how copper is a common material in kitchenware and how his team wanted to nod to the metal in the toaster design. The little toast icon is actually an digital display that counts down as your bread toasts.

Here's the Michael Graves Design Toaster which is made from stainless steel and has a copper handle. Strum described how copper is a common material in kitchenware and how his team wanted to nod to the metal in the toaster design. The little toast icon is actually an digital display that counts down as your bread toasts.

This Salad Bowl is made from acacia wood. The Graves office wanted to up the level of materials used in this collection, but found that instead of getting jcpenney's Chinese manufacturers to work with American woods, it was far better to design them in woods native to China.

This Salad Bowl is made from acacia wood. The Graves office wanted to up the level of materials used in this collection, but found that instead of getting jcpenney's Chinese manufacturers to work with American woods, it was far better to design them in woods native to China.

The Graves office is famous for tea kettles, the most popular of which is the Whistling Bird for Alessi. This Bells and Whistles tea kettle continues its legacy with a playful touch at the spout.

The Graves office is famous for tea kettles, the most popular of which is the Whistling Bird for Alessi. This Bells and Whistles tea kettle continues its legacy with a playful touch at the spout.

Aaron Britt

@aaronbritt

Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.

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