Zach Stringham

Industrial design runs deep for Zach Stringham, IDSA. The 2015 IDSA Student Merit Award winner representing IDSA’s Northeast Design District first became interested in ID at the age of 12. Stringham’s great uncle was an industrial designer and Syracuse University alum who gave a copy of his 2002 book, “Industrial Design: A Practicing Professional,” to Stringham, who then became hooked on ID. “As a kid, I always loved creating/making 3D things and wanted to be an inventor, so when I read about industrial design, it seemed like the closest thing I could find to being an inventor.”

Fast forward to May 2015. Stringham followed proudly in the footsteps of his great uncle, Philip Stevens, FIDSA (inducted into IDSA’s Academy of Fellows in 1975) and graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and a minor in psychology. Now, Stringham is working at D’Addario & Company—one of the largest musical instrument accessory companies in the world. He works at headquarters in Long Island and an office in Brooklyn in a newly-created position at D’Addario— industrial designer. He crafts musical instrument accessories—mainly for guitars and drums—such as capos, tuners, guitar straps, adapters, cables, drum pads, drum keys, drum sticks, etc.

The position is hitting all the right notes with Stringham. “Initially I was a bit hesitant to start out at large company, rather than a firm, but D’Addario really values design and innovation, which makes it a very exciting place to work. As a lifelong guitarist, this is an amazing opportunity because I’m actually able to combine my passions for both music and design.”

Where does he look for motivation? “Dieter Rams has always been a big inspiration to me. His philosophy on how ‘Good design is as little design as possible’ is very inspiring and I agree that often the greatest products are those that are as simple, straightforward and intuitive as possible.” Stringham believes the design legend’s work goes back to the future. “When you look at a lot of his designs from the late 1950s/early 1960s, you could mistake them for something that’s just coming out today, which is a sign of timeless design…. I think when we’re designing things today… we should try to design products that 50 years from now, people will think are from 2065, not 2015.”

Stringham completed two, key internships: PUMA in Boston as a footwear design intern working on running/training shoes; and Billings Jackson Design in New York City as an industrial design intern working on large-scale products for urban settings.

His Student Merit Award presentation included the PressVest—a pressure therapy vest designed help people with autism who experience sensory processing issues.  After reading the book “Design Meets Disability” by Graham Pullin, Stringham wanted to design a product to help those with disabilities—not only physical ones, but also mental ones. “As a psychology minor, I became very interested in mental disabilities, autism in particular….  Many people with autism suffer from sensory overload, in which they can become very overwhelmed and irritated by certain stimuli, making it hard to function in everyday situations.”

His vest puts deep pressure therapy on the torso to calm the central nervous system and provide a feeling of “groundedness.” How’s it different from current pressure therapy vests? “They use an inflatable air bladder with a blood pressure pump, but that can be stigmatizing, bulky and cumbersome.  My vest uses a cord that is tightened and cinches around the body rather than air pressure,” explains Stringham.

He says the styling and the functional components are inspired by athletic and outdoors gear.  “As a result, the vest is easier to use and less stigmatizing than current solutions and looks more like a piece of athletic apparel than an assistive device.  My goal is that if someone were to wear this vest in public, they would be admired rather than looked down upon.”

In the later stages of his project, Stringham collaborated with Syracuse University fashion design instructor Laurel Morton, who helped him create a higher fidelity prototype and showed him how the vest might be made. 

“I hope to use design to improve people’s lives,” says Stringham. “Whether it’s through designing an assistive device to help someone with a disability live a better quality of life, making a simple household product more intuitive and easier to use, or making a music accessory that allows musicians to play with more ease and enjoyment, I want to design products that really help people.”

Stringham points out what he believes makes the industrial design process unique. “As industrial designers, we learn to take a user-centered approach and design products and experiences that are completely defined by the people we are designing for and their needs and what’s best for them—rather than using a model solely based around cost and efficiency.  More and more people are beginning to recognize the value of this type of thinking, and as a result, design is increasingly being integrated into companies everywhere. “

The recent graduate also believes many current manufacturing processes and consumer culture are not very sustainable, and he’s interested in exploring new manufacturing processes and materials, as well as creating higher quality/longer lasting products. “I also think that as we continue to face many serious world problems such as poverty, overpopulation, and of course—our planet’s limited resources—looking at these problems through a design lens will be crucial.”

Stringham is very flattered to win the Student Merit Award. “It’s a great honor and I feel very fortunate to have had this amazing opportunity. It’s great to see that others value what I am doing, because it gives me confidence to continue to pursue the things that I’m passionate about.”