Monday April 30, 2012
Making the banal better
Stories by LEONG SIOK HUI
One of the most bodacious champions of global design, industrial designer Karim Rashid thinks good design should be accessible to everyone.
CHANCES are you have come across or own something designed by industrial designer Karim Rashid. From Umbra’s Garbino thrash can, Bobble water bottle and Kenzo Amour perfume to the Acme roller ball pen, these everyday products are widely sold in Malaysia and pretty affordable.
But far from being your average designer who churns out cheap, mass-produced products, Rashid does it in style and wins accolades for them. The Garbino bin, for example, sits proudly in the permanent collection of New York’s famed MoMa (Museum of Modern Art).
One of the most prolific designers of his generation, New York-based Rashid has over 3,000 designs in production that range from high-tech products, luxury goods, furniture and accessories to store designs, restaurant and hotel interiors. He has clinched over 300 awards and worked in over 42 countries. His work is featured in 20 permanent collections in museums worldwide.
The self-professed workaholic is also a perennial winner of prestigious design awards like the Red Dot award, I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review and IDSA Industrial Design Excellence award. His long list of clients include iconic brands like Alessi, Artemide, Asus, Estee Lauder, Giorgio Armani, Magis, Prada, Samsung, Sony and Swarovski.
Beautifying the planet
Known for his signature blobby furniture and amorphously-shaped everyday objects, usually in striking hues like fuchsia, neon blue, lime green or Chanel-red, Rashid describes his style as “sensual minimalism”.
“You concentrate on the subject matter of the object rather than on the form of the object, and through that, because there’s not a lot of adornment, it becomes relatively minimal. I also think my work is fluid, soft, organic, human, that’s why it’s sensual,” Rashid explained in an interview with online design magazine, Designboom (February, 2002).
Though he’s had his fair share of showy projects like high-end designer furniture or glitzy restaurant interiors, Rashid thrives on making the banal better. From hand-soap bottles, plastic pens, kitchen hobs, vacuum cleaners and disposable cigarette lighters and even to manhole covers, these mundane, everyday objects have been given the Karim Rashid touch.
“Too often we are relegated to tired archetypes. Design is about shaping contemporaneity. Design is critical to our environments, our daily experiences, our products, our everything. We need to beautify our planet in every aspect,” the 52-year-old said in a press interview by Gorenje, a Slovenia-based manufacturer of high-end household appliances.
Rashid was born in Egypt to an Egyptian father and English mother, and raised in Canada (after a short stya in Britain). He realised his vocation at the age of five when he went sketching with his father, drawing English churches. He drew a cathedral facade and decided he didn’t like the shape of the windows so he reshaped them! Travelling on the Queen Elizabeth to Canada, Rashid won the ship’s drawing competition for children. While all the children drew pictures of ships and families, Rashid drew luggage (with his own ideas of how to travel).
He studied industrial design in Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and did graduate design studies in Italy with design greats like Ettore Sottsass, Gaetano Pesce and Andries Von Onck. The overachiever also took night classes with design legend Achille Castiglioni at the Polytechnic and interned with Rodolfo Bonetto in Milano.
He paid his dues – designing business telephones, x-ray equipment and power tools in Canada before moving to New York City in 1993 to start his own practice. He had no contacts, no money and no apartment. After knocking on the doors of about 100 companies, he got his first break with US-based Nambe, a 61-year-old company that makes household wares. Rashid’s collection of tabletop objects for Nambe made it into permanent museum collections and the company makes an average of US$3mil (RM9.24mil) worth of annual sales from the collection.
Married to Serbian chemical engineer Ivana Puric, Rashid spends an average of 200 days a year on the road, tackling projects and giving lectures at conferences and universities around the world.
Of course, Rashid’s designs may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but still, his products’ commercial success is mind-boggling. Umbra has sold millions of the Garbino cans and the Oh Chair, a stackable plastic chair that he designed. And since its launch two years ago, 10 million bobble water bottles have been sold.
Along with his design peers like Philippe Starck, Ross Lovegrove, Marc Newson and Yves Behar, Rashid is a proponent of the “blobjects” movement that took off in late 1990s. A combination of the words “blob” and “object,” blobjects are distinguished by their smooth flowing curves, bright colours and ergonomic qualities. Cutting-edge technologies like computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), rapid prototyping and injection moulding allow designers to play with new shapes to replace archetypal designs. Classic examples of blobjects are iMacs, the re-designed Volkswagen Beetle and the Nike Triax watch.
As if being one of the hardest working designers around isn’t enough, Rashid found time to pen several books with titles like I Want To Change The World, Evolution, Digipop, and one of his personal favourites, Design Your Self: Rethinking The Way You Live, Love, Work, And Play.
In the last, he says that everything, from redecorating to fitness, work and sex, should be performed with flair and passion. His philosophy on living can be summed up in two ethos: “less is more” and “do it with colour”. For example, when decorating an apartment, Rashid advocates the use of bright colours (or gaudy, depending on who you talk to), “to imbue the space with a plethora of positive energy”.
Oh, and he also moonlights as a disc jockey whenever he gets the chance – you can book him for a gig via his website, karimrashid.com!
He was named the “Most Famous Industrial Designer in All the Americas” by Time magazine and he advocates for design to be a bigger part of the social discourse: “I have been almost alone in this country (United States), trying to make design become a public subject,” he told Time magazine (Sept 17, 2001).
Just as much as Rashid is famous, he is egregious. Critics have called him one of the most skilful self-promoters. His unchecked ego, public persona and brazenness have ruffled feathers amongst the design cognoscenti. But love him or hate him, it’s hard to fault the incorrigible Rashid for his desire to change the world, one design at a time.
n International furniture brand BoConcept recently launched the Ottawa collection, a collaboration between BoConcept and Karim Rashid. The collection’s dining range is now available at BoConcept, Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur. For more info, boconcept.com.my.
Photos courtesy of BoConcept and Karim Rashid Inc.
The designocracy of Karim Rashid