Name: Karim Rashid
Occupation: I am a designer—industrial design, interiors, architecture, graphics, art . . .
Location: Hell's Kitchen, New York City. But that's new for me. I just renovated an office here; we moved in four months ago. I was in Chelsea for 20 years, so it's a big change.
Current projects: Right now I'm working on the architecture of seven buildings around the world—four in New York, one in St. Petersburg, one in Latvia and one in Toronto. And then in industrial design, I'm doing everything from branding for new drink bottles to lighting, kitchen design, jewelry, perfume bottles, and lots of furniture.
Mission: My number one mission in life has been to make design a public subject. To basically preach to the world how design not only shapes a better life, and shapes our future, but how it has a huge impact on our physical well-being.
Rashid's recent product designs include the Bruno lamp for Verreum (above) and the Hooka for Gaia & Gino (below), both from 2013.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer? My first inkling of that was when I was about five years old in London with my father. He's an artist, and he used to take me to sketch churches. We were drawing, and I looked up at these Gothic windows, and I started changing the shape of them, making them into ovals. My father looked at my drawing and showed me that I wasn't drawing the shape I was looking at. But I had this weird little epiphany that, oh, I could decide to change the windows if I want. So that was a really abecedarian moment of feeling like I could have some impact or control in shaping the world I'm looking at.
Education: I studied industrial design as an undergraduate at Carlton University in Canada, and then I did graduate studies in Naples, Italy.
First design job: Between my third and fourth year of university, I got a summer job designing business telephones at Mitel, in Canada.
Who is your design hero? Naming one is impossible. It's like saying, What's your favorite song? Let me just name a few people that I think had a great influence on me. Luigi Colani. Ettore Sottass, whom I studied with. Joe Colombo. Philippe Starck. George Nelson. Charles Eames. I remember having a Buckminster Fuller lecture when I was at university—that was a huge inspiration for me. Victor Papanek, he was a professor of mine too. And one more I have to add is Marshall McLuhan, whom I also studied with for one semester. He made me realize that design has to embrace theory—that we're not just doers, we can be thinkers.
Rashid's recent interiors include the Amoji Food Capital in Seoul, completed last spring. Photo by Lee Gyeon Bae.
Rashid designed the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture, on view at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto until March 30. Photo by Philip Castleton.
Inside Rashid's new studio in Midtown Manhattan
Describe your workspace: My new office is about 5,000 square feet. The main part of it has a really nice 25-foot-high ceiling, with tons of daylight—which is partially why I moved, because I spent 20 years working where there were no windows. So this is a phenomenon to me; it's like I'm being reborn. I work on a mezzanine, and I look over my entire office. It's completely open, there are no walls, so everybody can hear everything.
Other than the computer, what is your most important tool? I guess I'd have to say my hand. Because I sketch profusely, and even when I'm not sketching I move my hand in ways when I'm thinking about ideas in 3-D.
What is the best part of your job? Seeing that you have an impact on everyday life
What is the worst part of your job? Seeing that you have put out in the world some mistakes in everyday life
The Hellraiser tabletop collection for Alessi
The Kook Kitchen for Aran Cucine
The Steek chair for Artisan
What time do you get up and go to bed? I get up at 7:30 a.m. and I go to bed at midnight.
How do you procrastinate? I don't procrastinate. I never have. I'm a Virgo, which means I'm super-organized. So I have lists of things that I accomplish; there's no procrastination, I just go down the list. In fact, the longer you work and the more projects you work on, the more the answer, I think, is to know how to make decisions very quickly. So I've become accustomed to that; I'm very comfortable with making decisions.
What is your favorite productivity tip or trick? To generate as many ideas in as short an amount of time as possible. Usually it happens, for me, that I'm most inspired in the introductory meeting of a potential project with a client. If I'm sitting at a table and they even mention what the project is, I find that my mind starts to race; I'm most creative at that moment. And the productivity tip, for me, is to get that down on paper immediately. So the minute the meeting's over, to go with a sketchbook and write and draw the nine or ten ideas.
What is the most important quality in a designer? To be 100-percent objective. To feel like you actually are not from this planet and observe humanity from a really removed perspective.
What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? That design is just visual or just aesthetic or just decoration. I think that's a huge mistake. Another misunderstanding about design is that it's expensive. Hence I've really struggled for the last 30 years with what I call democratic design. Design can touch everybody's lives; it's not just for the elite.
The third misunderstanding—and I think that we designers make this mistake—is that we try to be too clever. Design is not just about an intellectual pursuit or even a poetic pursuit. At the end of the day, design is to create a betterment of society.
Left: the Halo lamp for Artemide. Right: a water-filtration jug for Bobble
The Juga chair for Muma
Rashid recently did the branding, packaging and product design for Dentovations' Luster line
What is your most prized design possession? I spent the last ten years of my life pursuing something called "addition through subtraction." When I bring something into my life, I have to get rid of the same thing. With that said, there are certain objects that I find are never being exchanged. So my most prized possessions, I suppose, are those things that have not left my personal environment, chiefly some vases and objects by Ettore Sottsass. They have a lot of meaning to me.
What is exciting you in design right now? I have a theory that in the last 170 years since the industrial revolution, we designed in 2-D—and that gave us the 3-D world. But in the last roughly eight to ten years, I design in 3-D—which, in turn, is going to give us the 4-D world. And the 4-D world includes time, which is experience. Which means that we're going to make a more experiential world. Our objects, our architecture, everything is becoming much more dimensional.
Traveling the world now, I'm starting to see this happening. I was just in the Shenzhen airport—phenomenal, beautiful building by Fuksas. Everything is kind of amorphous. It's like we're starting to live in a non-Cartesian world, a biomorphic world. That's what excites me.
If you could redesign anything, what would you choose? I would redesign the electric car. Because we've taken the gas-driven car as an archetype, and all we've done is stuck batteries in it, rather than rethink it.
What do you hope to be doing in ten years? I just opened an office in Shenzhen, with 12 designers there. And I'm hoping to develop my own branded products globally. So I figure by ten years my brand will be pretty established. I want to have my own fashion line. I would like to have built up our architecture group to do a lot of projects around the world. And, finally, by that point I hope I will have designed and built my own super-high-tech-yet-self-sustainable house. Everything in it would be radical new materials, and a new way of living. So I have small goals for ten years!
Lastly, who's more fun to have a drink with: architects, industrial designers, or graphic designers? None of the above. I'd say fashion designers. But anybody that's intelligent I'll have a drink with.