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DAVID SHEARER founder and president of Totem

David Shearer is the founder and president of Totem Design Group, and DSGN, an innovative design journal. Born from a mission that is nothing less than the aestheticization of daily life through education and promotion of good design, Shearer has created a design institution that is known worldwide. To this end, Shearer has innovated and invigorated the world of design, especially in the US where design has not been easily accessible to the general market. After studying architecture and design at the University of Minnesota, Shearer established Geometrie in 1985; a Minneapolis gallery dedicated to twentieth century design. Shearer then came to New York in 1990 to manage Modern Age, a contemporary European design store in Manhattan. In 1995 the idea for Totem came about and a conversation that Shearer had with the late Ray Eames provided the name. Ray and Charles Eames traveled the world and collected objects from the people and places they visited. Ray described these objects as meaningful symbols of a particular person or place, in essence a Totem. Thus Totem (the objects that evoke meaning) was born.

Totem started as a designer representative and wholesaler for select furniture manufacturers. In 1997 Totem, the store opened in the Tribeca area of New York City, to much critical acclaim as a showcase for new talent from the US and Europe.

Shearer approaches his showroom as a curator and arbiter as opposed to just purveyor, selecting designs like components of an exhibit, as part of an over reaching vision. The showroom as museum concept is also present in Totem's educational projects; the public seminars, design competitions and special exhibitions that Totem sponsors and organizes are part of Shearer's effort to widen the appreciation and appeal of good design. Shearer has furthered his mission to promote good design with the launch in 1998 of DSGN (a publication dedicated to good design) and Totem's e-commerce, content filled website (

In addition to promoting good design, Shearer also has a strong interest in cultivating American design, especially young, up and coming designers, a goal that has been part of Totem from its inception. Alongside imports from the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Scandinavia, Totem has sought out American designers, pairing them with domestic manufacturers and then marketing their lines, or manufacturing their products as part of Totem's in-house production. Shearer laments that young American designers, unlike their European counterparts, have experienced difficulty finding manufacturers: "They have to do it all on their own, from designing to production." Shearer hopes that Totem's efforts can bridge the gap that exists between designers and manufacturers and allow American Design to flourish.

Copyright © 2008 David Shearer   
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