International superstar designer Karim Rashid spoke at this week’s DesignMENA Summit, focusing on the need to embrace the current “digital age” as the future of design.
The Cairo-born designer explained that we are now “living in the turning point” of the digital age which we should embrace to take a further step into the future of design by looking at “existing criteria to find solutions”.
“Design now has become a pretty loose term and it’s everywhere, everywhere to the point where you see ‘designer coffee’ and ‘designer pizza’. But the reality is that design is about working with this notion of contemporary criteria. And when you think of contemporary criteria, you think of the world we live in,” he explained.
He also spoke about the contrast between living and designing in the analog age versus designing in the digital age.
“If you go back to Bauhaus, you’ll see that products and the objects in the architecture was more or less driven by the extent of the technological abilities. So in a way, we were limited by the technology,” said Rashid.
“Now you look at something that happened exactly forty years ago, which is the digital age, which came about and turned everything upside down. It is the major schism between analog of 100,000 years of humanity and forty years of the digital age.”
He continued: “And in that analog age, how did we shape the world that we live in? Well in the analog age, we shaped it by the machines controlling us and in the digital age we tend to control the machines. In other words, we have complete control of the physical and virtual world now. And in fact anything at this point, because of the digital age, one can manifest anything one can imagine.”
He went on to explain that digital age has allowed “a sense of imagination, that we as designers and architects and cultural shapers, anything we can imagine we can more or less manifest. In the analog world, the way we designed was in two-dimensions.
“Today, when I design, it could be a menorah, it could be anything, a vase, I’m more or less designing always in three-dimensional. In fact, I haven’t really looked at an elevation in eight or nine years, and I don’t really think that way. Why? Because I think about the human experience, and for me that’s what design is, it’s shaping a better human experience.”
Rashid spoke about the importance of a “heightened experience” arguing that physical objects are useless unless they provide us with something greater.
“Which means if you’re going to design one today, you should really supersede what exists. If you design a chair today, it has to be completely comfortable,” he explained.
Another important factor in designing the future is looking at “contemporary criteria” which focuses on the present moment and letting go of the past.
“Most of the list of the issues at hand, the criteria that gets you into a project, the location of the building, the views, the space, all these issues are contemporary criteria, meaning that they’re about this moment and this subject matter.
“So I always say something like, ‘I’m thinking about the subject’, and inevitably, the form will come from it. If that’s the case, then design is about shaping the future and it really has nothing to do with the past, because most of those criteria are of the moment in time in which we live,” Rashid said.
Machines are also an important tool in shaping our future in design, he commented.
“It’s not by any means a sort of coincidence that we’re starting to see a very large movement in biomorphic architecture for example, and why is that? In product design, for 30 years now we’ve made phenomenally complex forms that are generated by machines…the reality has been in industrial design, and for many, many years we’ve been pushing all these limits of production. What’s happened though, is a change of scale. At the industrial design scale, I could make the most complex thing. At the scale of building, at the end of the day, if I wanted to translate something that was completely 3-dimensionally designed to something that’s actually physical, we didn’t really have the means and the technology, and we still quite don’t, to actually build it and manifest it at a relatively democratic price, meaning that the more few pieces of architecture around the world that we start to see that are quite amorphous generally cost high amounts of money to actually build and construct.
“But it’s only a matter of time because we’ll start to shape more of that at lower and lower costs because instead of creating everything in 2D as we did before, we’ll start to shape more and more in 3D.
“So the digital age has start to shape things that are more human, meaning they’re more of an extension of us,” he concluded.
Rashid said that the way we work now shapes the future that is yet to come: “If I start to work on a building today, it’s going to take 4 or 5 years, so we are shaping the future because that product will inevitably affect people for maybe the next ten years…So we are shaping the future.
“If we focus on the contemporary criteria, we are going to in turn not only shape the future, but we are responding to and shaping the moment in time in which we live. Meaning that design is a mark, a notation that says this is the time in which I live right now,” he said.
Rashid commented that he would like that he is living in the digital age so design should in order, respond to that need. And although we are currently living in the digital age, the physical world has not yet caught up and the way we build and design is a testament to that.
“We still build in conventional ways,” he said. “Pouring of concrete, lots of labourers, the way we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years and I’m very, very surprised…why isn’t it more technological at this point?”
He added: “We are very fortunate, actually—we are living in the turning point for the first time in history as far as we know, of the advent of the digital age. And [this point] has created a singular language in the world, it’s shrinking all the boundaries of this world and it’s creating one human race. It’s completely changed the world and we’re just at the beginning of it.”