Karim Rashid is one of the most prolific designers of his generation, he has actually made an art of bringing new ideas and innovation to the widest-possible audience.
Karim Rashid is the paramount design mind in popular culture today, something he understands as a universal global culture. Yet as a personality he reflects a type usually associated with a different century, the (digital) Dandy. And like an omnipresent vibrant spirit, he creates and utilizes a global feeling. He is an example of synchronicity in permanent movement. In him, work and person meld, inseparably subjective, manically productive and sensitive. He is a style creator with a Messianic belief in beautification. His family background manages perhaps to partially explain his character: Karim Rashid was born into an art family. His starting point was Egypt of the 1950s. His father was an Egyptian abstract painter, his mother English (from Cairo the family moved to Paris, then to London, and finally to Canada, and the rest is more or less history).
Karim and I met a couple of years back – in a hotel lobby in Athens. He was this polite, human colour bomb, exploding with laughter in the middle of a common grey day. That’s how he remains in my thoughts up to this day. We have had some colourful fruit juice, laughed a lot, and every second sentence he would spit out would be about his beautiful wife, Ivana. He was in love and he couldn’t hide it. They had just gotten married. The second time we planned to meet, via Skype this time (he was in his New York studio in the middle of a hectic week), he told me his wife had just given birth to his first child, Kiva. He was not standing in the room anymore, no, he was literally floating on air. Out of coincidence, I had been witness to this man’s two most important life phases. But, to Karim, there are no coincidences in life. There’s only endless love. Manifesting in a million different ways. One simply has to be thankful of. Just like it goes with design.
You have created countless designs, including projects ranging from interiors, fashion, furniture, lighting, art and music to installations. Which one are you especially proud of, and why?
Honestly, I have now created at least 3500 objects and about 100 interiors. I am also designing my first buildings now. So, it is very hard to pick one project that I am most proud of, and like most creative people we are constantly looking forward, not back. But I am so proud of the OH chair and Garbo can for Umbra. They have over 10 million in the US and proved to me that Americans want design but at an affordable price. In fact, the Garbo was inducted into the permanent collection of the MoMA. I am also proud of my work with Artemide, Bonaldo, and Tonelli; the new Bobble filter water bottle that I believe can help this earth, Bobble water bottle will be a global phenomenon. Across the globe it is important to conserve. Shipping costly spring water is a huge detriment to the earth. Drinking straight from the tap, using BPA free plastic and saving hundreds of bottles at a time can only help to save the world. And my first hotel, Semiramis in Athens. I have completed about 7 hotels around the word ever since then and I’m working on 5 this moment, so it propelled my hotel design career.
Is there a project among them that you have either regretted doing or would create completely different, if it was assigned to you today?
Yes, several of course. I am a perfectionist and so I am always feeling, I could have done better.
Pieces of your work are to find in permanent collections of fourteen museums worldwide, including the MOMA in N.Y. and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. What makes an object timeless and precious, if the materials used are contemporary and common?
A perfect object is a perfect balance of form, emotion, technology, performance, and function all inseparable and the crystallization of the time in which we live. The role of a designer today is to make the world a better place through increasing our everyday behaviors, functionally and emotionally. By replacing the clutter of poorly designed and poorly made objects, with beautiful high performing objects, hopefully sustainable, ergonomic, well-made, sensible yet seductive objects, we reduce the stress in our environments and in everyday life. Design is about experience, not just visceral or visual, but tactile, emotional, and Omni sensorial. Human beings touch an average of 600 objects a day, and the potential for those objects to benefit the everyday human experience is immense. It is important to me that the result of my work, and my collaboration with a client, manifest into something that will connect with the user, and sustain relationships with the consumer. Beautifying the world, and creating well designed, provocative, stimulating yet calming products and environments is the impetus for everything I embark on.
You have worked as an associate Professor of Industrial Design for 10 years and are now a frequent guest lecturer at universities and conferences globally. What is the most important lesson you teach newbies who want to make a living through design? What should they never ever forget?
Be smart, be patient, learn to learn, learn to be really practical but imbue poetics, aesthetics, and new paradigms of our changing product landscape. Conservative thinking will not help your growth, but, instead, cause a sort of metooism. You must each separate yourself from others. You must find new languages, new semantics, new aesthetics, experiment with new material, and behavioral approaches. Also always remember obvious HUMAN issues in the product like Emotion, ease of use, technological advances, product methods, humor, and meaning and a positive energetic and proud spirit in the product. This is what is missing! Many products have a very short shelf life, and they must capture the spirit of the time in their product lines and not worry about looking, behaving, performing like everyone else.
You are an industrial designer who has successfully entered the realm of architecture and interiors. Wherein do the biggest differences among these three realms lie?
I don’t have a preference for one or the other. Every project is different and usually the process is different as well. Some projects are very sculptural with little function; others are steeped in complexities of function, or mechanics, or ergonomics, etc. Key to an interior project like a multimedia/communications office would be to first know the needs of the client. I am very inspired when I discuss with my clients – that is the moment when the seed is planted, when I become very intensive, invested, and ideas flow. All design projects are collaborative, and I always feel if one wants to produce, and put work into the market one must listen and understand the needs and desires of your clients. I fill sketch books weekly, and then I bring my designs back to the studio. I brainstorm with my interior team to map out the space and I think about the new social behaviors of the ‘office’. The world has changed greatly and it is critical to be highly perceptive of human behavior. This is not trend; this is understanding contemporary needs and desires. They then create 3D renders of my ideas, do research with me on materials, technologies, and building processes, and then we refine the concepts based on all the plethora of criteria, be it social, economic, or technological issues until my vision is materialized.
You are renowned for wearing pink and white. Are these your favorite colours?
I love pink, white, and techno colors- colors that have a vibrancy and energy of our digital world. There are really millions of colors so it is ridiculous in this life to have a single favorite of anything- favorite song, favorite book. The beauty of this farrago in life is the broad diversity and choice of everything. I love color and I am not afraid of it – I use it in a painterly way, as a way of driving emotion though our physical object’s our spaces, to expression motivate, to inspire, and question, to challenge, and touch or evanescent public memory.
Let’s assume you were to hold a dinner for 6 at your apartment. Who would you invite and why? (dead or alive, famous or not)
I don’t want to eat with dead people, so I would invite Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Giorgio Moroder, and the porn star Angel Dark (if Bowie does not come, I will settle for Mick Jagger).
Is there still a brand/firm/person you, the Most Famous Industrial Designer in All the Americas, according to TIME, would absolutely die to design for?
Only the Americas? 🙁 haha. I would like to work with LG, Bose, Boeing, Bang and Oulfsen, Ferrero Italy, H&M, Rubbermaid, Numark, Conair, Bionnare, Johnson & Johnson, Kartell, Herman Miller, Braun, Adidas, IKEA, Vitra, Fiat, Fornarina, United Nude, Techno Gym, Tumi, and any car company to make an electrical car. Too many others to list… I think they all make intelligent products but some lack real human connections and my language and philosophy could really help shape their brand-future.
Which period in history inspires you the most?
I live in the present. The past is pointless.
How are your designs and color palette tailored for a given restaurant and, say, the cuisine or environment that it serves in?
When I’m designing I am quite pragmatic about thinking about colors- for example I am interested in communicating our technological age, or I am interested in creating a “digestive” pallet for a restaurant (lime is one of them most conducive colors to dining), or certain hues of pinks that create a sense of well-being, of energy, or of positive spirit, etc..
Is New York really your home, when your clientele is spread around the globe? Don’t your genes ever miss Cairo?
Though being born in Cairo, we left when I was only one and I am half English. When I was 45 I arrived in Cairo and immediately felt the exuberance and gallant mien rush through my blood stream. It is a phenomenal exotic place where origins of our human civilizations are omnipresent. But, really, I don’t really feel at home anywhere, I feel global, but I felt like it was familiar. I prefer to be a global citizen or a person that is from another planet, perpetually observing the world and the eccentricities and social behaviours of human existence.
What do you always carry around and could no longer do without?
My MacBook Air to design and my iPad to sketch, skype, write and read.
What playlist is currently on your iPod/iPhone?
I like M83 and Knife (and in that genre passion pit, Matthew dear, Cut copy, Broken bells) — but my sensibility is a bit more pop-electronic with subtle remixes and danceable slow beats like Aeroplane, Glass Candy, Chromatics, Memory Tapes, Woolfy vs. the projections, Midnight Magic, Mintel rose, Crystal Castles, Capital cities, Wave machines, XX, Tesla boy (love!) etc but always searching for new music. But I also like ambient (Eno, Philip glass, orb, and love human league, heaven 17, Telex, etc. but even like Neil young, Gordon lightfoot, and even like some jazz, country rock, hard rock (like Pink Floyd – just saw them in Berlin 3 months ago ), and dark Goth music like Bauhaus, Cure, Cold Cave, Joy Division, still one of my faves is David Bowie.
In terms of fashion and accessorizing, what 5 pieces should never ever, according to you, miss from a man’s closet?
Perfect (white) jeans, customized fitted suit, alessi watch, silver rings, fitted 100% cotton t-shirts, and 20 pairs of the same socks and underwear (Calvin Klein).
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned in your professional and personal life? What counts the most in the end?
That we exist to create. Whether we procreate or intellectually create, we are all here just for that, to evolve and progress humanity. We must evolve, we must innovate, and we must change. I want to change the world. That counts the most.
All images are courtesy of Karim Rashid.