Karim Rashid

"My inspiration is to beautify the world and shape the future”

Practically speaking, what you could say about Karim Rashid is very simple: he is one of the best. This is not about how dazzling a person he is. This is about facts. He has made luxury products for brands, such as Christofle, Veuve Clicquot and Alessi; democratic products for Umbra, Bobble and 3M; furniture for Bonaldo and Vondom; lighting for Artemide and Fontana Arte; high-tech products for Asus and Samsung; surface design for Marburg and Abet Laminati; brand identity for Citibank and Sony Ericsson and packaging for Method, Paris Baguette, Kenzo and Hugo Boss. His work is present in 20 permanent collections. More than 4000 designs in production, over 300 awards and works in over 40 countries attest to the legend of this designer with whom we had the privilege of talking, about his career and the mission of sustainability he always instils in his projects. As one of the most prolific names of his generation, there is no way that he could have been left out of this issue. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the iconic Egyptian industrial designer, raised in Canada, who we can dare to say is not from this world.
You are one of the best in the world in your field. Clearly you were born to be a designer. When and how did you realise this? 
I realised it at a very young age. I never thought about doing anything else. When I was a child, I would sketch churches and buildings, people and anything really. My father always told me to sketch what you see, not what you think you see. Hence you look at a person, thing, or landscape and you don’t think about a person, or the object or the landscape, but just see everything is lines, proportions, and light and dark.  

How does designer Karim Rashid make the world a better place every day?
My inspiration is to beautify the world and shape the future. I believe that design is extremely consequential to our daily lives and can positively change the behaviours of humans. Products and furniture must deal with our emotional ground, thereby increasing the popular imagination and experience. Focus on the human experience. We don’t see a lot of original work in the world because many just copy or make derivatives. Few ideas, many variations. Do not look at the same typology of your project or you will only appropriate. Look at social structures, new technologies, and human errors. I am inspired by mistakes in our built environment and make sure I improve them. That’s how we can make a better world.   

"I always disliked the idea that bright colours and primary colours are only for children”

You’re the kind of person who’d rather do than say. That’s why your projects are generally eco-conscious. But this isn’t something you talk about. Some people think they are plastic. They are mistaken. What’s your take on it?
Firstly, I think because my interiors and objects have so much colour or patterns that I am not eco-conscious. Just because something is brown or beige or wood etc., we see that as sustainable, but actually many wood products and other materials that appear in natural hues can be toxic and not sustainable. The world associates neutral colours or green and brown with nature. This is deceiving. And because of my fluid forms and strong colours one doesn’t believe the matter. We cannot get rid of polymers and need them to create democratic products, but if polymers are upcycled from the ocean and waste and 100% recycled, or we are using biodegradable polymers, then we can have a sustainable planet. Every day there is a new breakthrough in our global plastics planet. Yesterday I read that there are super worms that eat polystyrene, so this could be an enormous asset to the global plastic waste we have.

There are preconceptions that can ‘mislead’ the inattentive. Much of what Karim does is pink. Can you explain to us where this brand image comes from? 
I love pink and techno colours - colours that have a vibrancy and energy of our digital world. I think people aren’t sold colour, so they don’t expect to buy colour. 90% of people are going to buy the colour on display rather than use their imagination to visualise the other options. The beauty of this farrago in life is the broad diversity and choice of everything. I always disliked the idea that bright colours and primary colours are only for children and when we get older, we conform to dark hues, to banal grey and browns. Colour should spread across all the years, children should be brought up with sophisticated colours and hues too, not brash primary colours. I always wanted to live in a universal world, where everything is beautiful, and everything well designed. 
In your opinion, what are the main challenges that designers face today when it comes to manufacturing and production processes? How can they overcome them? 
It’s still a challenge to get people to recognise the importance of design. Hopefully, my attempts to lift it into the great arts that shape our world (like music and architecture) will be remembered long after my physical objects. Many designers do a great deal of work, but it remains in concept form only because the key to putting work on the market is to make sure it is a collaboration with a client/manufacturer.   

You have been in the design industry for over 30 years. It has gone through many social changes. How did you manage to adapt to the new times without losing the energy and originality you are so known for?
Originality, I believe, is always a creator’s agenda. If you want to do original work (we are born to create and are all capable of original work) then you must focus on the subject matter. I always gravitate toward new technologies because it affords me an opportunity to create something original. Simply put, design is inseparable from technology and innovation. If you are not innovating or using prescient technologies, you are styling not designing. 

"Design is inseparable from technology and innovation”

You already have more than 3000 works spread around the world. And you have received almost 300 awards. Do you feel like it’s time to slow down or that there’s still a lot to do?
I have decided, post COVID, to do fewer projects. I have designed for many years and now I will shift my opus slightly. I will open an art gallery and coffee shop, start my own fashion line, and do more interiors. I would love to design more private homes, a hospital, museum, mosque, and small appliances, such as humidifiers, coffee machines, blenders, toasters, irons, etc. It would be a dream to design sets for contemporary theatre and dance, ships. I would also like to design an electric car, a really good digital wireless music system, a moped, a bicycle, and many more hotels (one in each city I travel to). Staying home during the pandemic is for many a moment to slow down and reconsider one’s existence, and to reflect and reconsider one’s meaning and contribution to the world. Ideally, this epidemic is a wake-up call from Mother Nature for us to think about consuming less, to slow down and enjoy and appreciate our existence, to clean up the world and our bodies.  

If you had to choose the one thing that was the biggest professional challenge of your life, which would you choose?
 My most challenging project was probably my design for Naples Metro. It is my longest project to date! I started in 2004 and it wasn’t completed until 2011. But I am very proud of the finished product. They selected various famous architects to design each station. The stations in Naples are referred to as ‘Art Stations’. Gae Aulenti’s station has work by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Joseph Kosuth. Some stations have art from Sol Lewitt to Sandro Chia. Alessandro Mendini likes my sensibility, which was really flattering considering I aspired to his vision when I was in university and always saw him as a mentor. Since the stations were under the auspices of art, rather than design a station that is somewhat conservative and ‘accent’ it with art, I just did the whole station as my digital art. So, I sunk the art budget into the interior walls and spaces instead of selecting art. I will always love the impact and challenge that was the Naples Metro. It is the epitome of democratic design. 
T. Filomena Abreu
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