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Inside the Studio: Karim Rashid

by Elizabeth Freeman on 07/05/2016 | 11 Minute Read

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Interviewer: Theresa Christine, The DielineInterviewee: Karim Rashid

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. His award winning designs include luxury goods for Christofle, Veuve Clicquot, and Alessi, democratic products for Umbra, Bobble, and 3M, furniture for Bonaldo and Vondom, lighting for Artemide and Fabbian, 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. This month, The Dieline had the pleasure of interviewing Karim Rashid about the importance of collaboration, business of beauty, and his fearless approach.

How did you get started as a designer, and how have you changed as a designer when you first started out to now?  

I don’t think I became a designer, I think I always was a designer. I realized my life's mission at the age of 5 in London. I went sketching with my father in England drawing churches. He taught me to see - he taught me perspective at that age - he taught me that I could design anything and touch all aspects of our physical landscape. I remember drawing a cathedral facade and deciding I did not like the shape of the gothic windows so I redesigned them. I drew them as ovals. I also remember winning a drawing competition for children – I drew luggage (my own ideas of how to travel).

 When applying to university at the age of 16 I was torn between architecture, fine art, and fashion. I originally applied to study architecture at Carleton which was much too late and the program was full. They told me they could accept me in the 'architectural stream' of Industrial Design. So I went to Carleton university expecting to study architecture, but fate had it, that the second I took some industrial design courses I knew that that it is what I wanted to do. 

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What does the act of sketching serve in your design process? How does it help you as a designer and what goal(s) do you have when you sit down with your sketchbook? 

I love to draw. Drawing is the most peaceful, cathartic experience, and has been my sole window to relaxation for the last 45 years of my life, basically since I could hold a pencil. Today I rip through sketchbooks on a daily basis, using the pages as the best way to record my thoughts, fantasize about the future, and most importantly to express my ideas, so I can remember them later, and to discuss with my design team and to my clients. Drawing is inherent to artists and designers, but it’s more than just a characteristic trait of creativity, it is the building blocks of communication for designers. I firmly believe drawing, with nothing but your hand and a piece of paper, to be the quintessential basis of the design process.

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What can clients expect when they work with you? Do you work with everyone in the same way, does every project have a different approach, or is it a combination of the two? 

As a designer you must learn to collaborate. If you work with a company then the expectation is a marriage of my brand, vision, and ideas, with their company culture. Generally companies I work with or come to me have a very similar philosophy and this is when the work really works well. It is a myth that designers have an idea and a company produces it. The real work is the collaborative merging of minds, vision, and ideology. It took me many years to learn that the only time it works is when you have the right relationship and relationships are everything in life, love, business, friendship, and support. Every project is different and usually the design process is different as well.

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What inspires you? When you need some inspiration, where do you turn? 

I don’t take inspiration from any one place or thing. Inspiration comes from being creative within the criteria of a project, and as well from functional needs and desires. Travel constantly and get inspired usually by the unfamiliar so even the lost local places of industrial parks, airport hotels, alleyways in big cities, taxis in London, a breakfast in Istanbul, a bathroom in Paris, a prop plane in Sweden, a cinema in Milan, a Renault in Sweden, food in Qatar, shanty towns in South Africa, anything that is new to my senses, unusual, odd, inspires me. Beauty is in everything if we want to see it.

What’s been a particularly challenging project that you worked on? What was difficult about it, and how did you work through it?

I just designed a small flagship shop for NYC blinds. It was such a beautiful project to work on but it was challenging within a small space to create a super functional showroom and offices that appear as open and airy as blinds themselves. I wanted the interior to capture a sense of movement, a rhythmic sense of planes in motion. The NYC blinds shop was designed to speak abstractly of shade, of veils, of curtain-like fluid forms that envelop you yet feel infinite and open, a space that inspire you to create your own home with a positive ethereal spirit, a showroom that inaugurates the selection of blinds, wall wallpapers, shades, curtains in an ordered relaxed way.

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You’ve stated before that fear is something that should be eliminated from humanity. How do you do this through your work? 

I think there is a built in fear of ‘design’ and change, yet it is a necessity. I preach about how design shapes the future and culture. I believe that design is extremely consequential to our daily lives and can positively change behaviors of humans. By promoting change and producing work that speaks about the age in which we live.

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Tell us more about the “business of beauty,” as stated in your manifesto. How do you balance aesthetics with the necessities, the senses, and the human experience? 

My goal is to question whether companies are really interested in people and in culture. Through designers, manufacturers can discuss personal rituals, the depths of private relationships, the warmth of family, the codes of love, the signs of human emotions, the regard for happiness, freedom, personal expression, the well-being of our human existence.  I have the responsibility to address these questions through the product I design.

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We’d love to learn more about the team and people you work with on a regular basis. What do you look for in candidates when it’s time to grow the office? 

I have a staff of 20 in my NYC office and just opened a new office in China this year with 20 people. The ‘Krew’ is very international with designers from Netherlands, Colombia, Slovakia, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Iran, Egypt, Syria, France, Russia, Ukraine, and the USA. We are a big family, with many of the staff working here for 8-10 years. I look for designers who design towards the future, no nostalgia, have a sense of organic shapes and knowledge of the latest 3D programs.

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What has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned through your work and its impact on people? 

I have had too many failures and have learned that design is a collaboration between a brand and myself. One must listen, and work within that culture or nothing will go to market or get built. I realize that we live in a very complex world, and it can never be a utopian singular vision, and I'm just contributing as much as I can while I am on this planet. 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.

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What project or projects are you excited about that you can share with us? 

On the horizon I’m designing several hotels, condominiums, restaurants and other hospitality projects around the world including ground up 500 room resort in Cancun as well as a 400 room budget hotel in Amsterdam, a hotel in Poland, Latvia, and a boutique hotel in Norway. I am also working on the designing 4 condominium buildings in NYC and two more condo projects in Miami. I am finishing a hotel interior in Tel Aviv, a condominium in Latvia, and Café’s in Doha and Tangier. I am also designing a huge public interactive art installation for Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. For products I’m designing new packaging for health products, new condom branding and packaging, outdoor lighting and furniture for several Spanish and Italian companies, furniture for a large Mexican retailer, tech & cleaning accessories, furniture for several Italian and Spanish and Austrian companies and about to debut a very high end luxury mobile phone.

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