Karim Rashid: Designing for the digital age

Karim Rashid

Industrial designer Karim Rashid talks about a shift in emphasis towards the virtual.

With more than 3,000 designs in production, 300 awards and working in 47 countries, Cairo-born Karim Rashid is one of the most prolific designers of his generation. Rashid’s work is featured in 20 permanent collections and he exhibits art in galleries worldwide. He holds honorary doctorates from the Ontario College of Art & Design and the US Corcoran College of Art & Design. He is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and conferences globally disseminating the importance of design in everyday life. He was a keynote speaker at designMENA Summit, organised by Commercial Interior Design in 2014 and this year he came back to Dubai for the Index exhibition to give a talk on “sensual minimalism”.

How would you define today’s consumer culture and has it changed over the course of recent years?


Consumer culture has shifted towards the virtual and digital as well as the majority of money, energy, time and research, which is very different to 10 years ago. I remember reading The Times 10 years ago when it listed the top 10 gifts for Christmas. Nine of them were material things while today nine of them are immaterial and virtual. That’s a big shift.


Many designers are trying to reinvent luxury, especially within the hospitality market. How would you define luxury today?

Luxury is a very small segment of the world. If you really want to touch people’s lives, you can’t work in luxury. Luxury itself by definition has changed drastically. It used to be about material things, today is all about the experience. To have a luxurious life is about having more free time with less obstacles in your life. If today I have to design a luxury hotel, I should be thinking much more about creating unique experiences. So, I wouldn’t be focusing on putting marble on the floor or using old school materials. Luxury is a sense of being able to move and navigate through the space with ease. Luxury would be that you walk into a room and all of sudden the music that is playing once you check-in is actually the music from your playlist, which the technology has been able to read from your phone. This is something I just did in one hotel.


Photo by Rajesh Raghav , ITP Publishing Group

Do you think that this shift towards digital is actually scaring people?

Obviously, it is scaring people in the region because I have no work in the Middle East. Seriously, I have projects in 47 countries worldwide, but in certain parts of the world there is an inherent fear. If I have to defend my work, every hotel that I’ve done is number one or two on Trip Advisor. Once people go and experience it, they love it. Seeing pictures is one thing, but experiencing it is another. I spend all my energy on designing that great experience.

How would you define new, modern day travelers?

It is still part of human nature that we need to touch, feel and engage. None of that is gone. It’s all there, now even more than ever. We spend so much time virtually and on screens, that when we are with other people, I find that we become even more engaged.

I don’t buy this built in sociology from the 1980s that technology and computers are going to dehumanise us. If anything, it is humanising us even more. I am in touch with roughly 50 to 60 very close friends on a daily basis around the world. Before the only friends that I had were in my local neighborhood, my only knowledge was my neighborhood and one or two newspapers. The world has opened up in an incredible way, but we still take a lot of it for granted.


 Key takeaways from Rashid’s talk on Sensual Minimalism

On design: Design has an agenda to progress and evolve humanity.

The past has nothing to do with shaping the future.

On staying different: No straight lines exist in nature, so all this time we’ve been fighting nature. If you’re not innovating, you are not designing.

On copy/paste: By definition, kitsch is a cheap replica of authentic. More than half of the world is kitsch.

On new materials: Every iconic object in the past incorporated a new material.

On clients: The bottom line, design is business. Talk their language.





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