Karim Rashid is one of the most prolific designers of his generation. Over 3000 designs in production, over 300 awards and working in over 40 countries attest to Karim’s legend of design. In this great interview (thank you Miami Design District!) Karim talks about her career and her journey, as well as about some personal preferences.
How and why did you get into the design Industry? Where did you study, etc.?
I originally was torn between studying architecture, fashion, or fine art and ended up applying to architecture. Over the summer I procrastinated so much that by the time I applied to the Carleton University Architecture program, it was much too late so they were full. They told me they could accept me in the architectural stream of Industrial Design. So I went to the university expecting to study architecture, but fate had it, that the second I took some industrial design courses, I knew that that is what I wanted to do. I assumed that one had to be an architect to design a chair or a coffee machine (I loved the Italian product design landscape and all those products were designed by architects. In fact Italy did not have an industrial design school until 1984). In 1983 I went to do post graduate studies in Italy with Ettore Sottsass, Gaetano Pesce, Andries Von Onck for a special graduate program near Naples in Italy. I also took night classes with Achille Castiglione at the Polytechnic and I interned with Rodolfo Bonetto in Milano, Italy. I have two honorary doctorates in fine arts and design and was a full-time associate professor for 10 years.
For my first design job in 1980-1982 I worked full time designing business telephones and switching systems for MITEL, Canada while I was doing my undergraduate degree. I had a professor, Scott Gibson, who was designing for the company. I idolized him and so I applied at MITEL and managed to get a summer job. My first project was to design 2 business telephones. I had no idea what I was doing so in turn, they were somewhat derivative of all business telephones at that time. Funny recently I was in a hotel and at the front desk that same phone 30 years later was being used! Looking at it now I would have done it very differently.
I eventually worked for seven years with KAN Industrial Designers in Toronto designing x-ray equipment, a mammographer, power tools for Black & Decker, trains seats, 3-d glasses for IMAX and mail boxes for Canada Post. In 1991 I left Canada to teach at RISD and I eventually opened my own office in 1993 in NYC with no connections, no money, and no one. It was really difficult. Many times I thought I would just quit and become a full-time academic. But I persevered and was determined to build my own practice and be successful. It took about 5 years before I actually had some success in the world and now I have had my practice for 21 years in NYC.
How would you describe your design style? How varied are your designs? Do you have a signature touch with your designs?
I don’t see myself having a ‘style’ in fact, I believe that the term ’style’ refers to past movements in history. I would rather say my sensibilities and philosophy are about embracing contemporaneity with a sensual but minimal language (I call it sensualism), with a digital vernacular and spirit (I also use the term technorganic). I am interested in documenting, in editing the period in which we live. All objects and spaces have semantic language. They speak to us. Certain forms, line’s, colours, textures, functions, all touch and communicate to our senses and our daily experiences. I believe that it is important to not necessarily over-embellish- to keep a certain truth to a product or space, but I also believe that objects and spaces need to touch our sensual side, touch our emotions, they need to elevate a certain experience, to increase the pleasure humanize the world.
What do you love about being a designer? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
It’s a beautiful occupation to be a designer – to get to design things that people have daily relationships or association with. That’s a very big challenge of design – to create something that, although accessible to all consumers, touches people’s lives and gives them some sense of elevated experience and pleasure and is original. Also being a designer gives me the opportunity to search and develop new languages and to evolve human behaviours, to innovate, and to try and shape a better world. Lastly, I work from micro to macro so from jewellery or cutlery to laptops to furnishings to interior to buildings so no 2 days or 2 projects are ever the same. I find inspiration to be accumulative, there’s always a storm of ideas and influences that come into play. Everything can be inspiring. It is how you look at the world. I am inspired by my childhood, my education, by all my teachers I have ever had, by every project I have worked on, by every city I have travelled to, by every book I have read, by every art show I have seen, by every song I have heard, by every smell, every taste, sight, sound, and feeling.
What are some of your most popular designs/projects? Tell us a bit about some of your designs/projects and what you love about them. What’s your favourite and why?
Well, that is a difficult task! As with most creative people it is difficult to have a favourite since my mind and passion is always into my latest projects. My favourite projects currently are the design of a 21 story condominium in Chelsea, New York, a line of kitchen appliances that will be branded under my own name, a smart high end Mobile phone, and many other projects. I am now designing several buildings in the world from Latvia to Miami to Toronto to New York so I am quite excited about designing architecture. But if I must choose then I am proud of the Garbo can for Umbra that I designed in 1994 since it is 20 years old and still so successful and faucets I designed for Cisal in 2007 (I think they were quite original), my lamps for Artemide, and the design of the Kaj watch for Alessi (2006). I have all 12 colours so I change them everyday. They are so light, so comfortable, so simple, and inexpensive, which is really my mantra. I must say that I enjoy from micro to macro, anything and everything that creates a better human experience.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
As I mentioned, I am working on 4 condominium buildings in NYC, Kado Karim luxury condominiums in Jurmala, Latvia, as well as condos in Toronto, Tel Aviv, Miami and St. Petersburg. It is thrilling to finally design a full building and completely brand them with all my details, objects, and vision. Also at the Milan Saloni I am debuting a concept house forLG Hausys at the Superstudio. New furniture collaborations with Gufram (famous for making the Studio 65 Lips couch) and A Lot of Brazil (who have previously worked with Mendini and Fabio Novembre) as well as continued work with Vondom, Tonelli, Cizeta, Luca Boffi, and a giant wooden sculpture with Riva 1920.
What colours, textures and furniture pieces do you love the most?
I love all colours in general, but it is important how you use it. Colour can be beautiful or garish. I think it’s important to create large white spaces with accents of strong positive colours. I do like pinks, silvers, golds, cyan, orange and lime too. I have a tendency to prefer glossy and smooth and clean surfaces, and materials and textures that are not nostalgic or regressive. From very early on I was seduced by the texture and forms of plastic. I can remember the countless objects I had in my bedroom that played a significant and formative role in my life. They were all brightly coloured plastic, not necessarily pink. I treasured an orange oversized alarm clock radio that I loved by Howard Miller, a light blue plastic desk fan by Braun, a white plastic Claritone stereo, a Kartell plastic warm yellow mushroom lamp, a plastic white bed, a pink plastic chess table that disassembled for storage. Being so inspired by the plastic amorphous products in my life at the age of 12 I painted my bedroom canary yellow, fire orange, hot pink and white stripes to match. I distinctly remember the bright turquoise vinyl cube ottoman in our living room complimenting the slick olive glossy coloured modern floating fireplace- all this furniture juxtaposed the plethora of Danish 60’s wood furniture in our house.
What is your philosophy on design and life?
Our lives are elevated when we experience beauty, comfort, luxury, performance, and utility seamlessly together. Today especially, design must prove its’ worth and address the inhuman built environment to give us elevated, more pleasurable, more qualitative, aesthetic humanized seamless conditions. I feel that we all must design ourselves and design our lives. We must consider that we have more control over our lives than we want to believe.
What are your design dreams/goals?
I always say that dreams are something that would probably be attained, and goals are something you can attain. My dream is to see the world as one seamless, beautiful poetic peaceful place, but my goal is to progress and evolve the human race and make some small impact on making a better world. Designers have to be open minded, unbiased by race, aesthetics, religion, or any other kind of perspective. Designers are able to see things that don’t (yet) exist. It takes a sense of freedom to realize your goals and being completely objective is how I manage to do it.
Describe yourself in three words.
Optimist, Perfectionist and Provocateur.
In your opinion, which will be the top trends in interior design for 2014?
I believe in moving the trends away from tired archetypes, and cold minimalism. I hate nostalgia and repeating history. I prefer design that transcends fashionable trends and to work towards and searching for new vernaculars that echo our Technorganic digital world. I think there will be a continued implosion towards companies being aware of the POWER of design, how it shapes new markets, how it creates brand allegiance, how it builds brand equity and shapes a better economy.
What is your favourite architect in Miami? And Interior Designer?
Architectonica is my favourite architecture firm since they have persevered over so many years (I looked up to them when I was in university) and really shaped the skyline of Miami. They are Miami vice! I do not know interior designers in miami, sorry and I see very few interesting interiors in Miami. I love Miami ! It is changing so quickly and I was so pleased to design MyBrickell for related. I look forward to being part of the beautiful contemporary growth of the city. Miami is transcending into a new design epoch. The rest of the States should take note! Globalove, Karim.
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