THE REBEL WITHOUT A PAUSE
Cultural shaper. Artist. Nonconformist. Just a few of the tags Karim Rashid is happy to own. As we release updates to his award-winning Ottawa collection, we spoke to the world-famous designer about his process, definitions of success and the fact that, contrary to belief, he’s just a down-to-earth Virgo.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE DESIGN?
Design is about working with contemporary criteria to shape our future human experiences. Hence, it is about working with industry to create quality, betterment, and evolving us forward.
BRIEFLY DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN PROCESS.
Every project is different and usually the design process is different as well. It is my diversity that affords me the ability to cross-pollinate ideas, materials, behaviors, aesthetics and language from one typology to the other. I fill sketchbooks with my concepts and then I bring my designs back to the studio. It is imperative to start with the concept then develop a form around it. One can think sculpturally and conceptually of the idea. My team creates 3D renders of my ideas, as well as research materials, production processes and I never forget that the end result must be some improvement on the architype.
WHAT MAKES A PIECE OF FURNITURE SUCCESSFUL?
This is an interesting question. It is hard to answer. When I look back at my work my most successful works (and I define success by consumers liking the work – not by awards or museums) all the pieces had several things in common. They were extremely functional and made life easier, they imbued some flexibility in them or were very comfortable, and had a good production technology to produce them. They were all minimal yet sensual and human.
YOU HAVE IN EXCESS OF 3000 PRODUCED DESIGNS AND HAVE WON MORE THAN 300 AWARDS. WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CONTINUE WORKING – AND AT SUCH A PROLIFIC RATE?
I believe that everything physical that is new should comment or reflect and embrace the Digital age in one way or another, be it a production method, a new material, or a digital language, a new way of living. If I buy a car today I expect new beautiful forms, colors, and finishes, the latest technology, highest safety, the best comfort, the greatest efficiency, and a language and sensibility of the time in which I live. People like to assume that design moves with more superficial trends but it is technology that drives us. Industrial design is driven by designers embracing new technologies, whether it is material chemistry, production method, or mechanical invention. My designs are based on the latest manufacturing abilities.
HOW, IF AT ALL, HAS EGYPT INFLUENCED YOUR WORK?
I can’t say my Egyptian heritage has consciously shaped my concept of design but we all have are shaped our DNA that come out subconsciously. For example, I only realized about 10 years ago, that my symbols are similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. I never thought about it before then and wondered why I developed the language over a period of 30 years. It took me 44 years to return to Egypt after my family and I left in 1962 for England. When I arrived back in Cairo I immediately felt the city’s exuberance run through my blood stream. It is a phenomenal exotic place where origins of our human civilizations are omnipresent. But at the same time, it was foreign and not part of my culture anymore. I was too young when I left and my mother being English as well as my father never returning or talking much about the culture so I never learned Arabic. But I am half English and spent many more years in England and Canada and the USA than in Egypt.