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Empathy As A Design Catalyst

Empathy As A Design Catalyst

Michael Seum is the VP of Design at German tapware brand Grohe. But when he came on board to create a game-changing product, his empathetic design philosophy began permeating more than just the products.

“Design is about solving problems, which starts with being empathetic,” shares Michael Seum, the VP of Design at Grohe.

For Michael, that starts with simple things, such as a handshake with each staff member, every single day. This simple, but personal gesture has created a team that is open to communication, along with an honest sharing of ideas. “My whole team is seeing the benefits of this approach, particularly when working with other parts of the business,” he says.

This shift in thinking has, of course, made its way into the product outcomes. Most notably is with Grohe’s soon-to-be-released in Australia Water Security System. The easiest way to describe this new system is as an Internet of Things for water.

Smart Homes and IoT have been hotly debated for some time now. It’s not uncommon to find new multi-residential projects kitted out with the latest in gadgetry. So the idea of being able to control your water through your device doesn’t seem far-fetched. Yet it is the first of its kind. And as can be imagined, it has required a meticulous attention to detail and thought for the end user.

A project of this scale doesn’t happen overnight. Michael joined the Grohe team three years ago and was brought on board specifically to bring the Water Security System to life. Throughout that process he had to bring in a whole new team, including a digital designer in order to carry out the interfaces needed for an IoT product.

The new system will give homeowners the ability to monitor water usage, which is a critical consideration, as water becomes an ever-dwindling resource. It also allows you to remotely shut-off your water supply, which could save your home from being flooded if a pipe was to burst.

For the Chicago native, that very scenario is something that hits close to home. “I’ve had water damage in my home before, and I lost all my original sketch books and university portfolio. Things that are not replaceable. It’s a devastating experience,” shares Michael. Having a personal understanding and emotional motivation is just another example of how empathy comes back into Michael’s work.

From intuitive products that solve human needs, to a team instilled with trust, it seems most everybody could take a leaf out of Michael Seum’s empathetic approach.



Aleesha Callahan is the editor of Habitus. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Aleesha seeks out the unique people, projects and products that define the Indo Pacific region. Aleesha was previously the editor of Indesignlive.com and has written and contributed to various publications and brands in her 10 years in the architecture and design industry, bringing intimate insight to her stories having first trained and practised as an interior designer. Her passion for mid-century design and architecture began while living and working in Berlin.