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In 1997, Target was opening its first store near Washington, DC. To make a big splash and to contribute to the new market, Target’s marketing team, led by Bob Thacker, partnered with the National Parks Service. Target paid to restore the Washington Monument. Target hired Michael Graves to design the scaffolding for the project. The design challenge was to bring lots of attention to the monument during the restoration and to find a way for the important, iconic structure to appeal to visitors and locals during the multiyear restoration.
Our scaffolding design solution followed the profile of the monument, illuminated the obelisk from ground to tip, and was embellished with blue translucent mesh fabric. The pattern of the mesh reflected at an exaggerated scale the running bond pattern of the Monument’s masonry façade, thus telling the story of what was being repaired. The design was so popular that many people wanted the scaffolding to stay up permanently. While that wasn’t feasible, the scaffolding did remain up for the National millennial celebration in 2000, when the Monument was featured in a dramatic fireworks display.
While working on the scaffolding, there was a project meeting in our Princeton offices. While Target’s executives flew in from Minneapolis, the National Parks Service team took Amtrak up from DC. As luck would have it, their trains were delayed. Michael brought the Target team to our product design studio, which included an archive room and a company store. It was at that moment that Target started to wonder if there was a way to expand our partnership into a product design relationship.
In 1997, Target was the third largest mass market retailer well behind Walmart and K-mart. Target already offered a better shopping experience than the others and developed the nickname Tarzhay. Target didn’t want to compete on price against their larger peers, yet their merchandise assortment wasn’t unique or original. It was at a lunch meeting with Michael Graves that Ron Johnson, Target’s Vice President of Home Merchandising, had a brilliant idea and posed a question to Michael. “Would you like to do some products for Target?” Ron was aware of Michael Graves’ work with Alessi and other high-end manufacturers – creating original products that created trends rather than followed trends. Ron knew there were factories lined up to make any products that Target wanted to sell. Ron felt design could become Target’s competitive advantage. Michael immediately told Ron, “I would love to bring design to people at better value. To democratize it.” Target’s Chairman and CEO Bob Ulrich saw Ron’s vision, and with that conversation, what became Target’s ultra-successful Design for All strategy was born. Fast Company calls this one of the “10 Conversations That Changed Our World.”
Before Target, the Michael Graves company provided design consulting services for other brands like Alessi, Disney, and Lenox, and those clients marketed the products as designed by Michael Graves. But at Target, the products were branded Michael Graves Design, and our business transformed from design consultancy to consumer brand. Michael Graves Design became the company who made the really cool products in the light blue box that always drove customers back into the stores to see what was new. Target grew like a rocket, the media proclaimed the “Democratization of Design” was born in America and countless other fashion and design partnerships were created revolutionizing Americans' expectations for great design. Since then, Michael Graves Design has been sold at retailers including Target, HomeGoods, Williams Sonoma, HSN and countless others. And now, it's also available right here at michaelgravesdesign.com.