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Karim Rashid wants you to realize how poorly designed everything you own is

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A conversation with the mercurial industrial and interior designer

Karim Rashid
Photo by Alex Ulreich

Karim Rashid may look fairly content in the above picture: shades lowered, wearing one of his signature all-white outfits. But in previous shots, he was holding forth a ceramic white coffee mug. And there was a problem. The mug was not his, and it was not well designed.

"Oh, don’t get me started on the mug," he says, rolling his eyes (one assumes) behind his sunglasses. "Why do these things have handles like this? Do people really want to—" He exaggeratedly grasps the thin handle between two fingers.

Everyone laughs, Karim included. He knows he was asked about the coffee mug to provoke this exact reaction and he is more than happy to oblige. There are, perhaps, few people with more opinions about designed objects than the famously controversial Rashid, who has designed everything from manhole covers to baby bottles to buildings to sex toys.

He’s also the guest on the first episode of the second season of Curbed’s podcast, The Appeal, and we talk to him all about his work, his likes and dislikes, and where design is headed in the future. Give it a listen or read a transcribed version of the interview below.

Want more? Subscribe on iTunes! Take a listen on SoundCloud! And check out episodes from season 1 here.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Here in the studio to kick off The Curbed Appeal Season Two is Karim Rashid.

Karim, thank you for coming in.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah, thank you.

Karim Rashid:

It's my pleasure, really.

Asad Syrkett:

So excited to have you.

Karim Rashid:

You guys have been so supportive of my career in the last ten years or so.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Let's start here. When you're at a cocktail party, how do you describe what you do?

Karim Rashid:

Well first thing I don't drink cocktails because I don't like mixed. I just drink pure red wine or pure vodka.

Asad Syrkett:

All right.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Fair.

Karim Rashid:

At a vodka or red wine party ... No, I'm joking. How do I describe what I do?

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

If I say I'm a designer, which I try to say a lot because my breadth of work is broad and I also don't believe in specialization in a way, so if I say designer, people think you're fashion, immediately. It's very interesting, that word became equated to fashion, not to, let's say, the built environment. Whether you're designing buildings or you're designing products or you're designing furniture or you're designing, I don't know, peripherals, high-tech products, any of these things, you're a designer, right? The hard part is to have the definition. Years ago, and I remember this actually, I think it was Metropolis Magazine or something did a survey. They asked some people on the street to name three designers. They asked like five hundred people, and everybody named fashion, which was interesting.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Whoa.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Then I say industrial designer, but that's a little bit too industrial, right? A little bit too industry-driven. Product design, people kind of get that, or you could furniture designer, but I wouldn't want to be pigeonholed with the furniture designers. At the end of the day, I say I just design everything. That's all I say.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

How do you think that happened that people began to equate design with fashion?

Karim Rashid:

Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. I think it probably happened because fashion has been a public subject for a hundred and fifty years, whereas product design or furniture design or industrial design has not been. Most people actually take for granted the built environment. There's all these things around us that we don't even think about, until recently, actually, because now I think design is finally a public subject in a way. For many years, it was like we had all these things in front of us, your drinking glass, your eyeglasses, and the microphone in front of us, and the table and this chair, and people just accepted all these things in our world and never really questioned all this commodity until probably the last twenty years.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah, but to that end, products and cities and buildings and designs in that way have been around as long as fashion design, so it's kind of interesting how that-

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. Well, in fact you could argue, let's say a professional architecture has been around for ten thousand years, more or less, and in its profound state of making real, how can I say, impact on humanity and social life, it's probably the last three, four thousand years. Everybody's familiar with architecture. They understand at least it's about a building. There's that in between kind of ground which is interesting, of where design is still I think, even though it is a public subject, is still kind of misunderstood a little bit. Let's take interior design. It's a good example of that. In interior, if you said you were an interior designer, people would understand that right away, right? Get what you're doing.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Mm-hmm.

Karim Rashid:

The interior design profession, are you really designing or is it kind of a decorative, how can I say, kind of styling approach, or if that you're actually more of an interior decorator than you are interior designer? To really understand what the word design is, which by the way, you know the etymology of the word, right? It's from the industrial revolution.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Oh, do tell us.

Karim Rashid:

It's about a hundred and seventy years old and it means to program, design or the program. Basically, you sit down and you're drafting out a whole bunch of criteria to say, okay, this is my problem solving. Let's say I'm going to design a restaurant. I've got to hold a hundred fifty people. I've got to have twenty-five percent of the space probably dedicated to kitchen, et cetera, so you start planning and massing. Then you kind of get into more and more and more details, down to the furniture and you say, "Okay, it's comfort, how are the acoustics? Can I read the menu, da, da, da?" Start developing all of the other, let's say, sensorial parts of design. That's designing, right? What a lot of people, when we walk into these projects, they're not really designing because they're thinking kind of style first, not really thinking about the human experience, about what we really do or how we really navigate through space, what we come in contact with, how we touch things, how we engage things. That's design.

Design is really based on contemporary criteria. It's not based on the past. It's not based on bringing in languages or references from history. It's about now. If I design an injection molded plastic chair now, I'm going to use a smart polymer, probably even something that's biodegradable or I use a polymer that's derived from sugar cane instead of oil. I just did a chair like that, instead of depleting the earth's oil, which we've done.

Asad Syrkett:

Right.

Karim Rashid:

That's all contemporary. Then I say, okay, now I want the chair to stack, or be lightweight, or super comfortable, or flex. Those are all new contemporary criteria too. At the end of the day, if you're doing really designing, you're working strictly with contemporary criteria. In turn, you're going to shape the future, right? Next five years of behavior, next ten years of behavior, or et cetera, so it's nothing to do with history and borrowing from history at all. There's kind of a misconception, because in the fashion industry, design is that. Design is styling. It's all borrowed. Ninety-five percent of it is reiterations.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Clothes are costumes.

Karim Rashid:

It is costumes, of existing typologies, existing archetypes, existing details that really even you could argue, which is completely irrelevant. I'm always kind of embarrassed, I think about this a lot, I barely wear a suit anymore. I barely wear anything that has to do with the history, I realize, because it's superfluous ornamentation that I'm wearing. I have lapels that don't do anything, or I have buttons on the bottom of my jacket that used to be there to wipe your ... The cavalry wouldn't wipe their nose, and they moved the buttons around-

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah, I actually have heard this, yeah.

Karim Rashid:

They moved the buttons around. Now the buttons just stay there as some sort of what, a representation of man's suit jacket or something. I don't know. I can't handle all those things. I kind of try to do away with them and live in a contemporary existence.

Asad Syrkett:

Would you say that that type of thinking is the through line for your work? I mean you work in design at all scales, really, metro systems, signage, lighting. You've designed sex toys and sex shops. Would you say that that's the through line through all those kind of various mediums?

Karim Rashid:

Yes. Well, I say yes. The first thing I would say is that my point of entry into every project, first thing, is to do something original. If I'm not going to, I don't understand what the contribution would be. I might as well just be derivative, right? We produce a lot of the same thing. There's a little too much, actually, of the same thing. I need to do something original, and I need to do something original, maybe it's for my own self-worth or being, that I have some sort of meaning. That's the first part, but the second part, which is the challenge, and I'm just going to throw this out because I've been thinking a lot about this in the last couple of years, if you do something original that has some impact on society, you're one of six point seven billion. No one else has ever done that before. If you really think about the noumenon, the beginning of an idea or thought that can turn into making huge change, it's fantastic. That's number one.

Number two is then you're one of the existences of humanity. Let's say, we say since homo sapiens we're twenty or ten thousand years old, let's say, so you're one of how many, then? Roughly one trillion. You're the first of one trillion people, which I always find overwhelming. I always say, actually, if there is heaven, it's really crowded, right? Hell, even more so!

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah, I was going to say, yeah, yeah, really.

Karim Rashid:

Anyway, that's the first thought, originality. The second part is to sit down and now, not original for the sake of original but the sake that I'm going to actually make some sort of change, that I'm going to do something a little bit better, a little bit more interesting, a little bit more human, a little bit more progressive, a little more technological. Then I start searching for that part of the site proposal.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

The third part of it is to, just kind of ... I think if I do that, this is not actually ... It's a result of the first two, is then I end up trying to do something that speaks about the time in which we live. I think every product, every space, every building, if it's really done in the moment in which we existed, it tends to be not only important for that time, but it marks a sense of history. We need to speak about the time we live in, I feel. I don't need to speak about history or the past. I need to speak about now. If I design a building now, I'm hoping to use the latest technology as possible. For the construction, I'm hoping to design space in a way that we actually live today, our human behavioral experiences, our social life, et cetera. I try to focus on what is today, really. What is this world we live in today? Yesterday, I don't know if you know that digital age is basically twenty-five years old as of yesterday. It's kind of like its birthday.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Oh, really?

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Yes. Which is funny, because I thought it was forty. I don't know where I got that, but it's twenty-five years old. I always say, we live in the digital age, so there's a strange schism going on between how we actually really ... Who we are, our physical world, and what the digital age is, meaning that we exist in two different worlds right now.

Asad Syrkett:

Absolutely.

Karim Rashid:

They're relatively disparate, also. Somehow, still, they're not really quite merging. It's almost like, oh, we have technology. It's fun. I can do Instagram. I can have a lot of friends. I can do Skype calls with my clients. We almost separate that from the physical world. Then we turn around to the physical world and we regress.

Asad Syrkett:

It's happening, right? Like Pokémon Go was such a phenomenon, right?

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

I think what people really didn't even realize they were gravitating toward was that sense of augmented reality and having this crazy little monster creature show up on the sidewalk beside them. There's something really intriguing about having the digital insert itself into the physical world and into people's day-to-day realities.

Karim Rashid:

Completely.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

It is happening, and it's going to happen, regardless, right? This is the master plan, I think. It's going to happen. It's just, now-

Asad Syrkett:

Who's planning?

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

I have a theory about that, but it's a little bit too philosophical. I don't want to get into it, but I think that what happened is, I think maybe it's out of some sort of paranoia or fear of technology that we resort, we regress when we get into our physical world. I'll give you a couple of examples of this.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

I go out to a restaurant out in Brooklyn it took about a month to get a reservation for, and it's all hyped and et cetera, et cetera. I get there and I walk in, and my first thought was, sadly, it looks like a copy of a copy of a French bistro. I don't understand why there's this disconnect. Why are we trying to make some fake, almost kitsch stage to sit and eat when we're supposed to be eating very progressive cooking, and interesting new cooking, and new ideas, et cetera? There's the disconnect a little bit. Then I'm sitting in a chair that's like a copy of a copy of a copy of a Thonet chair from 1830. I have to sit for two hours with a wood rod sticking in my back. Why do I have to sit in discomfort? For example, when I go run, I'm a runner, I customize my Nikes with my pronation of my foot, et cetera, et cetera.

There's almost like two worlds going on. One world is a fake kind of kitsch trompe l'oeil, and the other world is the real digital and real world we live in now, that we're alive and existing in now. I'm not sure it's because the digital age is so young, meaning it's just the beginning? If you think about it, let's go back to when we were cavemen fifty thousand years ago or something, is that, let's say, the pioneers of the world, we're kind of like bioneers now, and this is so new that we don't even really know how to handle it, possibly. There are disconnections there because it's just the beginning.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Your work is so informed by what's happening right now and what's contemporary, and even what is going to happen. I'm curious, how has technology changed the way you think about design and the way you push your designs forward?

Karim Rashid:

I remember this very well. It's 1987 and I've got a Mac IIci. I was designing in the office, and we also got in the office, we got a PC. At that time, for any design work, especially technical work, engineering, CAD, anything, it was only PC-based. I had this IIci at home, and I was just doing graphics on it like all the rave flyer kids. I remember just being so embracing of the idea that it's going to make huge change, not only in my personal process of how I design but in the world itself. I was really pretty optimistic about it. I think it's because, going back in the late '70s, one of my professors was Marshall McLuhan. I don't know if you know who that is.

Asad Syrkett:

The name is familiar, yeah.

Karim Rashid:

He wrote The Media is The Message, and so we had a lot of discourse in our university about technology and about the futurisms, et cetera, et cetera. At that point it was like, floppy discs and we were writing code. It was very weird.

Zoe Rosenberg:

The future.

Karim Rashid:

I was like, I was learning Fortran and COBOL-80. I don't even know if people even know what this is anymore.

Asad Syrkett:

I'm sure some listener out there is like, "Yes, Cobalt 80!"

Karim Rashid:

Yes, Cobalt 80! Exactly. Anyway, what I liked about it, what I knew about it was quickly, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that I could do many variations and change things very, very quickly versus drawing technical drawings by hand. If I was actually engineering a product, it's amazing. If you made a mistake, you'd have to almost redraw your whole drawing. I knew that that was a great, amazing thing. I thought, if you can do a lot of change, a lot of variation, you can kind of get to better and better and better solutions, faster, first of all, and the world will become better because of it. It's almost like the reluctance, or let's say, the timeline or what it would take to build the project in an analog world prevented really good work, you could argue. The Cathedral, Duomo took three hundred years to build it. It went through seven generations of architects. The last architect is the only one who got to see the building built, which is kind of sad in a way.

Asad Syrkett:

Also kind of amazing in its way, too.

Karim Rashid:

Amazing, yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

It's like he carried on the lineage of his family working on it or his teachers who instructed him and worked on it.

Karim Rashid:

You're just romantic.

Asad Syrkett:

I am. You can tell?

Karim Rashid:

Yes, but I mean, in a sense that also, at the same time, imagine today you build a world ... Like Frank Lloyd Wright didn't build that many buildings, at the end of the day. I think if he was alive today he would have built three times the amount. Just the communication itself in the digital age has changed change, has afforded us to actually produce and work a lot more, and better. That's number one.

Number two is that I really believe in a three-dimensional world. I realize that the entire physical world we live in is 2D. It was actually designed in 2D. When you navigate through this world, you realize all these drawings, everything you see, the façades, everything, it's all flat. The grid of the floor, the acoustic tile on the ceiling, it goes on and on. The tiles, the bricks, it's all 2D. We drew and saw the world in plain view, top view, side view section. Today, and it's been now twelve years, thirteen years, we design everything in 3D. We don't even think 2D anymore. When you think 3D, you're actually really developing real human space. It's an extension of us, because we're asymmetrical, we're 3D. There's no straight lines exist in nature, which is very weird that we build this Cartesian world, this grid. We built a grid because, A) it was cheap to produce, because it came from the industrial revolution, you could cut things in straight lines, baseboards, screwed them, everything was ... The physical world we live in now is derived from the 2D.

Now, with all this 3D that I have, I realize, well, in a way, if we keep designing in 3D we're going to shape a 4D world. 2D gave us 3D. 3D should give us a 4D. The fourth dimension is time, which is human experience, which means I think we're going to just make a better and better, more experiential world.

Asad Syrkett:

Let's hope. I mean, really.

You mentioned Marshall McLuhan, were there any other professors or people that you worked with, maybe even outside of the design and architecture worlds that really heavily influenced your work. I know Ettore Sottsass is someone that you studied under.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. I studied under Sottsass also under Gaetano Pesce who lives here in New York. I don't know if you know who Gaetano.

Asad Syrkett:

Yup.

Karim Rashid:

I studied with somebody named Rodolfo Bonetto. I worked with him in Milano years ago. It was fantastic, a lot of people, a lot of very influential people. I think what's interesting about the time that I was brought up in and when I was educated, there was this ongoing dialectic of utopia, of this idea that we will make the Earth utopian, right? If you look at a lot of people of my generation or older, look at Zaha Hadid, for example, et cetera, you could see the influences of this notion of creating a utopic world now. Now, what's happened is when we were kind of steeped in it then, it was more of an ideology. Today it's becoming practical ... How can I say, it's becoming built. Ideologies are becoming real. There were a lot of influences back then. I remember I got to see Buckminster Fuller lecture. I was only eighteen years old.

Asad Syrkett:

Wow. How was that?

Karim Rashid:

He was out of control. He's great. People call me eccentric. Did you see him?

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

George Nelson, I saw Charles Eames. I saw those ... Like I mentioned-

Zoe Rosenberg:

Oh good.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah, all these people. I think somebody who had a big influence in my life tough much later on in the '90s was some French philosophers like Jean Baudrillard. I went to UCLA, and a friend of mine was taking her classes her. I sat in on a lot of classes and loved his philosophies and I engaged him a lot, and then I started to teach them. I realized later on that I needed to be less influenced by other, let's say, designers or architects, and I needed to be influenced by philosophy or by other outside, as you were saying, outside the profession, to think on a broader level, not to be so material, to think about style and to think about visualization, et cetera. Now, when we look at the world now and I was just thinking about this, this morning as I post it on Instagram, I was thinking how we're looking at pictures that are this small, they're like ... Right?

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah. They're tiny.

Karim Rashid:

They're five by four centimeters or something. You can't even zoom in. I don't know. Tell Instagram that one, because I don't get that. That alone, changing the grid.

Asad Syrkett:

Right. Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

I don't what that's about. Talk about who would still live in this Cartesian world? Actually, I mentioned about the Cartesian world is I was designing I was designing a mobile phone. I could do anything I want because it was a startup two years ago, so I went crazy. I built a phone that would've been really been radically different and changed this world. I'm probably not the only one who thought of these other actions, but the reality is, I mean, your hands are tied by the developers or the companies who can produce these goods, right?

Asad Syrkett:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karim Rashid:

You have to have a good client at the end of the day. You can be really talented, but without the client, you produce nothing, right? Anyway, I made this phone and it was almost oval-shaped. I had this great technology I got from 3M where you could actually put it against your hand, and if you held your hand straight up, it wouldn't slip out.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Oh wow.

Karim Rashid:

It's really nice, and it was full of these nice ideas. The platform for our digital is Android is a grid and iOS is a grid. To make an oval-shaped television, which I did ten years ago for Samsung which they never produce, you end up with this big border, because in the middle you end up with a rectangle image. You can't have an oval image. I would love to have an oval image, so the image wouldn't be confined to a rectangle. It's very strange that we're confined to rectangle because that's the way analog photography was.

Asad Syrkett:

Right.

Karim Rashid:

Right? We are trapped in a frame.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Oh yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Now, we're-

Asad Syrkett:

Windows, I think, just having windows be rectangular and square makes you see the world in that shape.

Karim Rashid:

Right.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah. Picture frames, all those things.

Karim Rashid:

That's true. Right. Exactly. Actually that's how one-point perspective was discovered by building a frame at a distance. There's an original thought. I mean, if he didn't depict and be able to manifest or draw one-point perspective, I don't know where we would be today. Imagine that it took up to the 14th Century for somebody to do that. I mean, that's original thought, right? That's a brilliant, brilliant ... Anyway, sometimes, I don't know. I'm a little off topic, but it is like we're trapped in this world of 2D, trapped in a grid. I'm designing kitchens and I'm designing refrigerators for LG, and I'm designing stovetops, and I'm designing credit cards. All these things I'm designing, more or less I'm forced in a grid again, but I don't believe in the grid. In fact, it's confining. I feel if we, as human beings, for us to be spiritually free, physically free, physiologically free, you need to break out of this grid. The technology, as you mentioned, I think is going to afford us to do exactly that with time.

Asad Syrkett:

I mean, you've touched on it a bit, just the future of design where this is all going. I mean, you're talking about the fourth dimension. You're talking about bringing an experiential viewpoint to how people are thinking about design.

Karim Rashid:

What we have to understand about design is, let's say, tomorrow you design a building as an example, still there is a tendency that were steeped in this idea of façade. We look at things in floor plans. I designed a lot of hotels. I spend my life in hotels. It's amazing how many hotels I've stayed around the world. I can imagine, you look at the plan, you say, "Okay, well, where does the bed go?" Oh, the bed goes here because the window is over there. Then, oh, but because it's a three-star or four-star it has to have a desk, so I put a desk, or I has to have a chair, I put a chair in the corner. These really banal approaches to just planning space, I think it's all-over all those stuff.

What happens is, and it's amazing because we have the technology, for example, VR technology which we're not really using. When I walk into the room of the hotel, the first thing I see is I see the bed sticking out. It's not like we designed it from that perspective of the experience of when you walk in, where you put, how you put your luggage down, what you touch, how the lights go on, what's the sound like, all those things. The sensorial aspects of design which is all the other dimensions are not really being considered one, and we're not really still looking at a lot of this in a dimensional space. We're still really looking at it in the analog way of plans.

Zoe Rosenberg:

We're really talking about subverting tropes in design with your work. One of the things that your work is really well-known for is its use of color. I'm wondering, where did your love of color come from and what ways do you use color to push design forward?

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. I'm kind of getting in trouble with color, because-

Asad Syrkett:

Do tell. What's going on?

Karim Rashid:

When I have a task, the first thing is going to be is like paint or color or something like that. People in the world, it's amazing how I think, because I design everything, so many thing, is how different my forms and ... Each project is what it is. They're very different from one another, but you get pigeonholed a little bit, right? I'm kind of pigeonholed in being the blobism guy or the color or something. The color, I think, the reason it's working against me is because so many people, especially developers, are so afraid of me because of color. I told my staff the other day, we made the entire portfolio of a hundred sixty build projects in black and white so people can look at that.

Asad Syrkett:

Right.

Karim Rashid:

Then they can understand what I'm trying to do, the real space. Now, color has a huge impact of also what I'm trying to do to, because color, for me, is an extension of the digital age in which we live. We can visualize, our eyes, something like sixteen, seventeen thousand different colors. Our computer is telling us we have one point four million, which I don't understand then how that works, but if we have one point four million ... The technology itself is affording us to have this kaleidoscopal kind of colorful world on screen, and even in our small products now, color is being really embraced, right? If I just come to the point where, like, for example, you're looking at a picture of a mobile phone, it's so banal of an object, sitting on a big billboard. What do they do? They have to have some beautiful purple, iridescent colors on the screen to give it some life, right?

Asad Syrkett:

Right, absolutely.

Karim Rashid:

They don't know what else to do.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

That's right.

Asad Syrkett:

It works.

Karim Rashid:

It works.

Asad Syrkett:

Those billboards, I'm always like, "Should I get an iPhone 6S?"

Karim Rashid:

Yup, and even fashion. You see them, in general, the majority of the fashion is monochromatic but then they show context, it's really colorful, because ... Anyway, we're seduced by color. We love color. It's amazing how emotionally we feel. We can change emotions so quickly. You can be sitting in an auditorium, I'm on stage, I look at the audience, and the whole auditorium is just kind of brown and everything. If those two walls on the two sides were, I don't know, light yellow or something else, immediately, when you walk into the forum to watch the lecture, you'd almost start to feel different. We know this for years, I mean, psychologists who have work on color and psychology and color and emotion for years and years and years, but I don't know why, and I use a lot color and I love color, love it, and everybody's afraid of it. That's how it's working against me.

In fact, I just got a really nice project, I'm doing a building in a condominium in Aventura, and the client said to me, quote, came in, loves my work, ready to work with me but he said, "But you have to make me a promise on this project, no color. You know what I said to him, I said-

Asad Syrkett:

Have you met me?

Karim Rashid:

No. I said thank you actually, because most people just run away. They won't even think about using me, because he saw deeper than just the colors, let's say. In turn, it was a good project for me because now when you see the drawings, the renderings and the feeling, it's all monochromatic, and it's beautiful, and it shows that I'm more than capable of this kind of work, but there's definitely a fear. Where my love of color came from is, I don't know. I think it's somehow deeply innate in me or something, because I remember in university, my teachers were, they're all this tectonic kind of German, Dutch education, Bauhausian education, and all our we models made had to be gray, black, or white. My father is an abstract painter, and I would go home and visit my father. He'd have this huge canvass with about three hundred different colors on it. I remember thinking that, "Oh, my dad's work is a garish," like a little too much color. I didn't really understand what he was doing.

Asad Syrkett:

Right.

Karim Rashid:

Although I saw him paint and paint, on one hand it's maybe behavioral that I started to pick it up, but there was something coming out of him. As he got older and older, his work got more and more and more and more colorful. Actually, he even started out as a painter, he was actually quite ... It was much more subdued, his color work. For me, it's directly linked to the digital age, again, because when you're making imagery on the computer, it's beautiful, the colors, phosphorescence and the glowing and the gradations, and all these things. You see it happening now. I mean, the good thing is in industrial design, it got accepted, meaning you can buy yourself a professional Nikon in hot pink, for example, right? Imagine you're spending fifteen hundred Euro and you have a hot pink camera. This stuff was unheard of thirty years ago.

In fact, when I was doing industrial design in the '80s, I remember proposing baby blues and pinks to companies. I did one of the first laptops in the world for Fujitsu I think it was, and there were a few out in the market, very few. It was a big machine, something like twenty-seven pounds. It wasn't really a laptop.

Zoe Rosenberg:

It's a crusher. This will crush your lap.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. That's why they call it a portable computer, they called it.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Okay.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

I made some grooves on ... There was a lot I could do, because at the end of the day with these products as industrial design, you're almost just putting a casing on technology, right? I put these lines and everything, but then I proposed it in baby blue, I remember this, in light pink, in light grey, they just went ballistic. They could not believe this. I mean, they thought I was ... Like, how dare you take something so serious, some piece of technology and make it in those colors. I finally convinced them at the end. We made it really dark grey, because at that time everything was beige-y, really weird. They look like plastic that melted in the sun color.

They made in dark grey, but I remember propos- ... I was really, really interested in doing this, and now, today, it exist, right?

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah. The future looks a lot-

Karim Rashid:

You can buy headphones in any colors.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Then it moved a little bit further into furniture. Now, furniture, you buy yourself a nice orange upholstered chair or a pink sofa, right?

Asad Syrkett:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karim Rashid:

Okay, moved to furniture a little bit, but that's about as far as it's going. Then you see the odd propos- ... I just saw one yesterday. I don't know where it was, beautiful building. I think in Rotterdam or somewhere, where it's all crazy beautiful colors, the entire building was. I'm shocked when I see this kind of thing. You can feel it starting to happen, but you need somebody very daring as a developer to believe or to trust that.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah, to fund that. Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

You know about the controversy. You guys wrote about the controversy of-

Zoe Rosenberg:

Indeed we did.

Karim Rashid:

... My little colored façade building that was pink and cyan and everybody flipped. It was just so funny, because at the end of the day, it's just color. I don't know how people can be so upset about that.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Fair point.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Anyway, I made it white, the building. At least it was accepted in white because the entire street is brown bricks.

Asad Syrkett:

Right. That will be a bit of a difference on the streetscape at least.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

Well, that's a good segue to our thunder round which is like a lightning round but a little slower, maybe a little bit more considered, but what is your favorite color, if you had to choose just one.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Just one.

Jeremiah Budin:

If I had to choose just one and really live with it all the time, I guess it's white.

Zoe Rosenberg:

It's white?

Asad Syrkett:

You're wearing all white in the studio right now.

Karim Rashid:

Yes.

Asad Syrkett:

Well, your shoes are pink and white and black.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. The reason I say white is because it's free. It's liberating. I feel like I can accomplish anything wearing white. I don't know. Strange, no it's a, but ... Yeah, white.

Zoe Rosenberg:

I like that.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Zoe Rosenberg:

If you could build in any material, regardless of its structural viability, what would you choose?

Karim Rashid:

You mean build like build a building or build what?

Zoe Rosenberg:

I think anything.

Asad Syrkett:

Anything, a seat, a piece of technology.

Karim Rashid:

I think it would be a polymer. I think it would have to be some sort of plastic. There is a polymer that I really like which is like a crystal polymer. If I could build, I would love to build and entire building that's lightweight and polymer and plastic like that but it's entirely live and like a video, so it's acting like your screen, something of that nature would be nice, yeah. I just want to add to that, I think that we're still a little bit also in the analog world. We're still steeped in this idea of permanence. I don't believe in permanence whatsoever.

Asad Syrkett:

Especially when it comes to things that humans are building, like permanence is really just a hope.

Karim Rashid:

A hope.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

I think if we could make a lighter world, a more flexible, a more sustainable world, if we relinquish that idea.

Zoe Rosenberg:

You said biodegradable chair earlier and my mind was just like, "Poof."

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. Well, there's this technology I found seven years ago in Brazil, and it's a company that produces from sugar cane, a polymer, great structural integrity, has everything. You look at it, you think it's a polycarbonate chair but it's sugar-driven which is beautiful, and it's biodegradable. In fact, a lot of my projects around the world, I've been using this new technology from Germany which is a flooring that I print wild prints on it. I did a five hundred-room hotel in Berlin like this. I can do anything I want on it, digitally print. At the same time, the panels completely are biodegradable. You can do all these really lightweight, interesting, sensual, provocative, digitally-driven things in this world that are disposable. We are disposable, meaning, nothing is really permanent.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Very true.

Karim Rashid:

Like the other day someone said to me about classic, the word classic, which I cannot stand that word by the way, just cannot. The client said, "Oh, but make us ..." We were doing a dining table, Italian company, said, "Make it more classic," and I said to them, "What is classic? What does that mean?" They said, "Well, it'll sell more." I said, "Well, then you're not going to do anything original. You want me to do classic, I can make you a round table or a rectangle table. It's been done thousands of time. You're up against the competition of tens of thousands of people who are selling the exact same things. You want to do something original, you forget about classic, do something about now, something that differentiates you and differentiates your product or your company or your brand." I always say, design is the only brand differentiator left.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

If ten companies in the world make televisions and all the monitors are coming from the company, the liquid crystal, then what's left? It's design. It's design of the brand, design of the minimal frame that's around it. It's design of how it works, how it plugs in with the interfaces. That's all that's left, right?

Asad Syrkett:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You're not a fan of the word classic.

Karim Rashid:

No.

Asad Syrkett:

What is your favorite word?

Karim Rashid:

That's a good one. People joke with me all the time that I use the word phenomena too much, so maybe that's it. A phenomenological moment is when you feel really alive, and I love that feeling. I love that feeling if I walk into a space of into a lobby or see a building or see an object or touch something or even ... I'm talking about the material word or even just taste a certain taste I haven't tasted or smell something, that phenomena is beautiful because you really realize you're present, you're here at this moment in time.

Asad Syrkett:

I don't think I'm the only romantic in this room.

Karim Rashid:

No.

Asad Syrkett:

Something tells me.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah. Well, I have a romantic radar, I guess, so I know others.

Asad Syrkett:

Was there anything that you wanted to add at the end to that?

Karim Rashid:

I would like to add something, yes. I think that we should really upgrade the city of New York.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Who doesn't think that?

Karim Rashid:

I mean, it's falling to pieces.

Asad Syrkett:

That's an entire podcast episode.

Karim Rashid:

I guess what I want to say is when I look at the world, and you know this well as journalists, if you see the built environment, it's pretty bad in general. When you really now look at the opportunity we have with technology, the way things have changed, you start to realize that the world is really physically behind and backward, and in a sense, almost, you could argue primitive in certain ways. I would love to see the world, in general, move quicker and move forward a little more and become more part of the time in which we live. I'm going to give you just two simple examples of that. One is I would just like to navigate the whole world with my fingerprint. It's weird to me, puzzling to me that I can spend twelve years at Equinox using my finger to go into my gym, and yet I can't use my fingerprint instead of a passport. Rubber stamps are an eight hundred-year-old technology.

It's so stupid that we run around ... Also, frightening. I'm running around this passport in every city in the world thinking, if lose it, if I lose it, if lose it, right? Then, money, coins. The last thing, by the way, I was in Australia two weeks ago, and everyone I hand them a bill, I get coins that were about three inches in diameter, like seriously, backwards stuff. This stuff is so backward, and we've had the last thirty years of opportunity, we keep changing it, and somehow we're still not quite changing it. I would love to get rid of all of these things, peripherals, health cards, ID, driver's license, bills, mail, magazines, paper, all these stuff. I get no mail at all anymore except bad, disgusting magazines from Frontage. I don't know why on Earth they send me that, or whatever, Restoration Hardware, thick catalogs that are being printed, killing the environment, destroying the Earth. This stuff is destroying the Earth, we don't need it.

When I talk about the master plan earlier, just to throw this out, it's my theory, digital age came about to dematerialize the world in order for us to be saved. It's a survival, and that's where humanity has systemized surviving for the last ten thousand years. The digital, zeros and ones are immaterial, very low energy, hardly need energy, create far more greater human experiences without physicality. Where we need physicality, let's make it better. If we need a table to eat on, make the table better, but we don't need all the other stuff. These all should be gone, books. A company asked me the other day to design a bookshelf, I refused.

Asad Syrkett:

There are going to be a lot of-

Karim Rashid:

You don't need shelves.

Asad Syrkett:

There are going to be a lot of people out there who disagree with you on this.

Karim Rashid:

Yeah.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

Well, they can disagree, because if they really step back and be objective about human existence and not subjective, forget about that you like to touch paper, screw that, step back and say, "Look what we're doing to the Earth," and isn't it more interesting and how much more time do you spend on your digital screen than you do touch paper anyway? An average American right now is spending seven hours a day looking at screens. Where does paper come into this? Nostalgia, right?

Asad Syrkett:

There's no room for nostalgia with you?

Karim Rashid:

No.

Asad Syrkett:

Yeah.

Karim Rashid:

No-stalgia.

Asad Syrkett:

Well on that note, I think that's a great end. Thank you so much for coming in.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Yes, thank you really for coming in.

Karim Rashid:

I appreciate you guys inviting me, thank you.

Asad Syrkett:

No, it's great.

Karim Rashid:

I love Curbed just to add to that, so thank you.

Zoe Rosenberg:

Thank you.

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