Interview w/ Michael Seum – VP of Design at GROHE AG.

On the the eve of the launch of their new creation, the Atriodesigndaily.. had the opportunity to have a conversation with GROHE‘s VP of design, Michael Seum.

An individual and a leading-figure to learn from. A life & career defined with experiences and self-exploration. A story that one can borrow from.

In the following conversation, Michael Seum shares his thoughts on topics of design process, design environment, his inspirations, work-life balance and ending it with a sincere advice to all the creators out there. 

Can you tell us about your & GROHE’s design process & are there any parts that you tend to focus on the most?

This is a very neat question. Every project is unique, so I would be lying if I said there is one standardized design process. As the design team has a great range of skill sets and abilities, I focus most on the team’s chemistry and putting the right type of designers on the particular challenge we are facing. Within the company we do have consistent project stages with certain deliverables that need to be completed first but the way we get there differs every time. Sometimes you come up with the design idea almost immediately, and sometimes it takes a while. Then, you are constantly looking for solutions. You may even wake up in the middle of the night, make a quick sketch and possibly come to the office the next day with the result. So, the creative process is somewhat chaotic. If you embrace this chaos, it can lead to the best results. So, I don’t really focus much on the process but more on the team’s talents and chemistry.

How do you recreate or translate your inspirations into your creations?

Most important is, from my point of view, that the inspiration should come from people. Although, we can be inspired by a lot of things, such as by the past, by nature or by a good story, for me, the real inspiration comes from different cultures. It is about looking at things from different angles and this curiosity that lead many designers to imagine something new that didn’t exist before. In some ways you can be inspired by reimagining very simple things and in some cases you will be stimulated by a couple of lines on a page that lead you in some direction. Then, inspiration can come from anywhere. What I find most important is to step away and to see objects in quiet moments where you have time to think and reflect on what you are trying to achieve. I think if you enjoy this curious, rearranging and refreshingly surprising process, you will come up with some amazing ideas.

What role does ‘environment’ play in the growth and development of a designer & a student?

I grew up in a small town outside of Chicago and ever since the beginning I was inspired by its city architecture. That influenced me very early. It is the little things in your life that serve as motivations. If you look at the course of my career, I’ve spent almost 9 years out of my home country. Five of them I lived in Italy and three of them I spent working for GROHE. When you say environment, I feel constantly stimulated by seeing different cultures and it allows me to see things from various perspectives. For many designers, these stimulations are important because they put you

into unknown situations, they make you learn something new, and make you see things from a different point of view. This is tremendously enriching for everyone’s career. With that in mind, I would like to encourage young designers and students, early on from their careers, to experience as many different things as they can. Let them find out what they are passionate about and make them discover various perspectives to open up their minds. This is an important chapter in their career where they are not valued for how long they have been in a company, but for how many different experiences they can contribute.

How has the environment around you shaped your career?

The first steps in my career were shaped by different impulses and experiences I made. One of the big steps in my career was when I left America and moved to Italy. I did not speak any Italian neither did I know anything about life in Italy. And yet, I just moved with my entire family and went forward. I put myself into a place where everything was new. This unknown complexity eventually forced me to simplify things in my life. It made me adopt different ways of thinking. I had to come up with questions, I needed help, I put myself into situations that I had not been in before. With these experiences in mind, I developed a lot more empathy for people.

For students who are making a (first time) transition from a school environment to a professional environment, what would you like them to know or be aware about?

Get five jobs in your first ten years! Try out as many things as possible because in ten years you need to be a master. Before, you really need to explore what field you want to be a master in. Take the opportunity and explore different things even if they are unknown to you. Such situations are highly valuable for your career path.

What are your thoughts on ‘Work-Life Balance’?

Work-life balance is very important. As I am leading the design team, I put great emphasis on their well-being. It took me a while to understand this, though. Now I know that, in my function, I need to be a role model for the team. For instance, there are times I leave the office early to go watch my daughter swim. Then I will walk out and say “Guys, I am leaving! I am going to watch my kids compete tonight. I hope you enjoy your night, too”. Of course, as a designer I am always curious, I seek inspiration and I continue to develop ideas for current projects. This happens even when I am watching a soccer match. Then my thoughts will be about challenges I have to tackle. Still, I put high priority on my health and my mental state. I think it is really important to have a good balance between working and personal life.

A piece of advice for all the students out there?

Much of your success will be based on your attitude and how well you can work with others. In school, you are often taught about individual abilities. Many designers that start their career now are not used to work in teams neither are they used to work in creative environments. I value community, culture and team building mentalities. From my point of view, the young generation needs to make these experiences. Blend in with diverse opinions and take feedback from others.



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