It’s been a busy, brightly colored, organic-shaped summer for Karim Rashid. The designer has given lectures, made appearances, and occasionally DJ’ed in cities from Miami and Toronto to Hamburg and Ekaterinburg (Russia’s fourth-largest city). On Friday he could be found in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he keynoted the Construye & Remodela confab. Not that there’s any shortage of stateside projects: Rashid was recently commissioned to design three Manhattan residential buildings, including a mixed-use project (20 apartments, with office and commercial space at the street level) located at 1633-1655 Madison Avenue. The concept is a continuation of Rashid’s signature boundary-pushing, rooted in a desire to “bring a fulgent vibrancy to the environment and move away the trends away from tired archetypes and cold minimalism.” He made time between groundbreakings, prototyping sessions, and DJ sets to answer our seven questions.
You recently lectured—and DJed—in Ekaterinburg, Russia. What is your impression of the state of design in Russia?
I have been to Russia 25 times and always love the country, the energy, the people, the intellectual spirit, the food, the sensibilities. In regards the state of design I have seen things change drastically since 14 years ago, but the problem is that Russia has not embraced the design phenomena enough, yet it is getting better and better. The condition is changing. In order to know Russian designers internationally they either work and develop brands in Russia—that become globally established—or work for foreign companies. And in all those trips very few Russian companies approach me to design for them.
Russia with all its diversified money, increasing incomes, intelligence, education, and manufacturing capability, lacks globally recognized brands. I always thought how fascinating it is that a country like Sweden has international brands like IKEA, H&M, Absolut, Volvo, and Voss with only a population of 7 million. Because of the size of Russia, companies were producing goods exclusively for their huge market and taking no impetus to export. Russia has the manpower and money to create major global brands. But times have changed and the doors to the West are open. I would love to see Russia build some very contemporary brands that contribute to our beautiful global consumer landscape.
I just completed the new OK.RU website [a popular Russian social media platform], and I am working on a shopping mall in St. Petersburg, an orange juice bottle, a cognac bottle, a tractor, and other projects in Russia, but I would love to design some hotels in every major city. There is a lack of design-driven boutique hotels in Russia.
How do you think design affects our mental and physical health?
Design should be as inspiring and comfortable and work seamlessly with your life. Our environments should feel free, communal, and personal at the same time. I believe fluid, clean, bright spaces, smart poetic products and a real sense of progress and evolution of the physical and virtual world can promote a healthy, intelligent life. Good design creates a mental state where one feels positive, relaxed, inspired, and rejuvenated. Design can extend our lives and increase our aesthetic public memory.
What is your design pet peeve?
I intensely dislike the derivative appropriations of history. For example nouveau riche baroque interiors, and other antiquated languages. I hate the rococo revival—baroque chandeliers, flower motif decoration, ornate and nostalgic ornamentation; turned wooden legs, French Belle Époque influences, decadence and dandy. I think that we should not be allowed as humans to replicate the past, but only to shape the contemporary world. Our surroundings should engage technology, visuals, textures, lots of color, as well as meet all the needs that are intrinsic to living a simpler, less cluttered but more sensual envelopment.
What is a form/product that you are eager to work on but have not yet had the opportunity?
So much of the world needs a makeover. I would like to design hospitals, and large projects like whole subdivisions, to small everyday products like air conditioners and humidifiers, coffee machines, blenders, toasters, irons, hair dryers, and on and on. I want to design sets for theatre and dance, and a fashion line in my own name. I would also like to design a private home, airplane interior and branding, an electric car, a really good digital wireless music system, a moped, a bicycle, and a disposable laptop or digital camera (they are all very ugly). I also would like to design a small museum and many more hotels (one in each city I travel to).
What is the most unusual or meaningful object currently on your desk?
The most unusual objects on my desk right now are samples of my line of nail polish for men made with Faby Nails of Italy. I’ve always had my nails done—usually white but sometimes silver or cyan. Now I have my own line and will revolutionize/popularize male manis! The most meaningful object on my desk is the desk itself. It reminds me of how I must always continue to make soft, organic, friendly forms that increase one’s productivity and well-being.
What do you consider your proudest design moment?
I think I always have new goals. I am super-passionate, hyper-driven, consumed by the need to produce and disseminate beauty and keep creating. I am very proud of receiving four four honorary doctorates and being inducted into the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame. But I feel the real accolade is seeing my objects in average people’s homes or to see a space realized, enjoyed, and experienced by people. The highlight now is to see that 200,000 people on Facebook like me because I always saw design as a populist act, not an elitist act. Success is seeing my products on the market, not just elaborate, unique one-offs. I have great pride continuing relationships with my clients and producing new work. Success is seeing my dreams for a better world realized.
What is the best creative or professional advice you ever received?
While I was studying in Italy as an undergraduate, Ettore Sottsass taught me not to be too much of an artist in order to be a great designer. I keep his vases and a few Memphis works around to remind me of this. An artist is not a designer, and a designer is not an artist. They are very different. Art is shellfish, design is selfless—I do both but never together.