Meeting Karim Rashid backstage, the striking dashes of pink on his outfit instantly catch one’s attention. “Pink is a high-energy colour that gives me a sense of really living,” he explains; the industrial designer was in Singapore for . He adds: “It’s controversial, but it’s in me to be provocative and get people to open themselves up.” Indeed, provocation is in Rashid’s nature—take his sensual interior design for a Munich sex shop or the riot of psychedelic colours in his own townhouse interiors.
(Related: Ottawa Collection by Karim Rashid)
Regarded as one of the most prolific industrial designers of his generation, the Egyptian-born, Canadian-American has more than 3,000 works in production and has received more than 300 awards. In a nutshell, Rashid wants his work to inspire and push boundaries: “I want to show that I have an original voice—this is me, my contribution.”
What’s your view of design and how has that evolved over the years?
Karim Rashid Design is everything in our entire built environment. It’s everything physical—even the room we’re sitting in. My view is that design needs to be a well-done, high-performance and functional extension of us that elevates our daily experiences. I believe in designing to shape a better world, so design should also be sustainable and ecological.
What do you think about sustainable design?
KR My projects are generally very eco-conscious, I don’t talk about it—I just do it. When people compare a wooden chair to a plastic chair, they may find that the wooden chair looks more ecological. But it could be covered in finishes that are toxic and use lots of energy to produce. People are driven by aesthetics—if something looks natural, it’s ecological—which is ridiculous. The bottom line should be about processes and the kind of technology used.
What negatively affects the state of design today?
KR The first is this idea of styling. For interior spaces, when you start to regress and borrow historical elements like Baroque-style furniture, chandeliers and so on, that’s not design, that’s just styling. Design should be about using contemporary materials, processes and production methods.
The second problem is the proliferation of the image. The upside is that people become more accepting of design as a public subject, and it elevates sensibility and taste. The downside is that we’re not going deeper; we’re just looking at the surface. If we just look at things visually all the time, what you see is what you’re going to do—you’re going to become derivative and it’s going to be very two-dimensional.
How do you try to make design accessible to the masses?
KR The trick is to get companies who create democratic things to believe in me. I push myself to work with them because I’m an advocate of democratic design. During the Industrial Revolution, machines were made to manufacture products that were inexpensive, to reach a wider audience. So product design started with a democratic agenda. It was never about design as high art.
In your eyes, what is perfection?
KR The pursuit of perfection is, honestly, exhausting. I’m a Virgo, so I’m double the perfectionist. You’re never satisfied as you’re trying to reach a certain absolute for something that can’t be improved further. But the closer you get to perfection, the better the work. Design is about organising the world—and perfection is trying to organise and clean up the mess. When it’s cleaner, our lives are simpler and easier so that we’re not distracted by the disorder.
What’s a normal day for you?
KR I don’t overwork; I work a maximum of seven hours per day. I don’t believe in exhausting yourself. I’ve been designing for 30 years and I’m very good at what I do. I know what I want to do and I even dream about my work. So I don’t need to spend a laborious amount of time in the office. I’m also not a believer in hobbies – you should make your hobby your job.
What’s your number one tip for young designers?
KR Focus on what your DNA is, so that you’ll do something that’s driven from your culture, and differentiates you. Once you start doing something original, you’ll find phenomenal success and everyone will gravitate towards you.