Even those new to the design industry quickly become familiar with the name Karim Rashid. The innovative style of this progressive designer stretches across various categories of products, with introductions including the Chakra chair for the Raynor Contract Group, the Pierce Couch for Softline, the No-Stalgia Collection for Porcelanatto, and, most recently, the Cadmo light for Artemide.
Contract magazine stole a few minutes out of Rashid’s busy design schedule to see how his inspirations have evolved and what he’s designing for next.
You produce a multitude of new product designs and collections each year and, most recently, Artemide’s Cadmo light. Do you find it difficult to consistently develop new and innovative designs for such a wide-range of products?
I am the one always pushing for development; I conceive more ideas than my clients can produce. It seems as though the world cannot keep up with my speed. In the last five months of this year, I have developed about 230 projects. Of those projects maybe 100 will get to market.
What are the major trends in design you see today? How do you see these developing in the future?
Trends, for me, are something that come and go, or are momentary, which is part of our ever evolving “in flux” world. But as a designer, for me, if something is “trendy,” it means that it is over—it has already become a style at that point and is no longer a movement or direction. Frankly, I think we have blurred the meaning of trend, style, and design. Style is steeped in appropriating the past. Design is about shaping the future—about revisiting and evolving our culture and physical landscape. Ultimately, it is not about trends, problem solving, or just form or just function: It is about progress and evolving our experiential aesthetic world. It is not about elitism but everyday life.
What other new projects do you have in the works that you can share?
I am working on three new restaurants around the world, as well as two hotels. For products, I have new furniture lines with Bonaldo, Rowe, and Tonelli; credit cards; baby bottles; appliances; televisions; luggage; kitchen utensils; office chairs; and tons of packaging.
When did you know you wanted to become a designer?
I realized my life's mission at the age of five in London. I went sketching with my father in England—we were drawing churches. He taught me to see; that I could design anything and touch all aspects of our physical landscape. I remember drawing a cathedral façade and deciding that I did not like the shape of the gothic windows, so I redesigned them. (I drew them as ellipses.) At age six, I won a drawing competition for children with a sketch of luggage.
What did you enjoy most/least in design school?
I studied industrial design at Carleton University in Canada. The difficult part was that the program was really a broad general degree—with sociology, marketing, engineering, architecture, semantics, history, iconoclasm, and philosophy—so the degree at the time seemed frustrating because I really just wanted to draw and design. But looking back at it, I learned that design is not about a form or shape. It is a cultural critique, a faction of social, political, and economic life.
As an undergraduate studying in Italy, Ettore Sottsass taught me not to be too much of an artist. Working with Rodolfo Bonetto in Milano taught me that the industrial object is a manifestation of behavior. Working with Jan Kuypers in Toronto taught me how to collaborate with large corporations and still somehow make change.
Who or what has been your biggest design inspiration?
I am inspired by everything all the time. The world is an exciting, stimulating place, but everything becomes clear when I lie in my bed in the middle of the night. Everything can be inspiring; It is how you look at the world. (And I have a very critical view of the world, but also an optimistic one.) I am inspired by my childhood, my education, by all the teachers I have ever had, by every project I have worked on, by every city I have traveled 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 has been your favorite project to date?
Semiramis (shown right) is my proudest most total project to date. It is a broad project where I designed everything from the building to the flatware, from the soap to the pool, from the garage to the furniture.
What do you consider your greatest success, and your greatest challenge?
Greatest success: I designed the Garbo waste can in 1995 for Umbra, and they have sold 8 million to date in the U.S. It proved to me that Americans want design but at an affordable price.
Greatest challenge: Dirt Devil Kone and Garbo. Both products were not going to production because the focus groups had said they were too radical.
What advice can you give to other architects, designers, and students looking to create their own product designs?
Learn to learn. Stay objective for the rest of your life. Search work not fame. Love the profession or leave it. Persevere. Build a body of work. Focus on the good. Don’t be jealous, envious, greedy, or possessive.