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10 Minutes with Karim Rashid

Tuesday evening, Danish design company Bo Concept debuted its newest collection, created by designer-about-town Karim Rashid. I walked up the pink carpet (a favorite color of the Egypt-born, Canada-raised impresario) and sat down for a ten-minute chat with Rashid about collaboration, kitsch, and the one thing he hasn't (yet) designed. 

Designer Karim Rashid

Dwell: How collaborative is the Ottawa Collection for BoConcept? Did you work much with the company's designers? 

Karim Rashid: Their team really critiqued all the proposals I gave them and went through them pretty rigorously. Over one year in development, I'd say it was very collaborative. And I honestly pride myself on collaboration. A company doesn’t come to a designer because they are a patron; some people have this idea that clients are just patrons and you get to do whatever you want. It's not that at all! They come to you because they want to increase their business, push boundaries and go in new directions, open new markets. That's why they come to a designer. With that said, as a designer you have to understand the culture of the company. 

So then what would you say you bring to BoConcept that doesn’t already exist?

KR: Well I think [I bring] a new sensibility and possibly a slightly new function in certain products.

I mean, a designer can have the greatest ideas but if they aren’t with the right company, it means nothing. I've been asked many times how I am so prolific and I always answer a) it's not worth working with someone when you know it's not going to work. And b) you actually collaborate.

I think we get a little spoiled because some of the small Italian companies, they basically come to a designer and say "give us whatever you want, you are the creator, you are the genius, give me this sketch," and then they make it. But that’s not the approach of a company like BoConcept. Those small companies stay small because a designer may be designing his own fantasies, but the question is whether that has any real market value.

Why do you think a sense of humor is important in design?

KR: I think a sense of humor is important in everything. We are all mortal and we are all going to die.

My only worry is that a lot of designs are humorous and that’s it. There is a fine line in doing work that is just witty and work that brings something to one’s life with a bit of humor. Design has spent 150 years on fighting kitsch. Really you should ask Philippe Starck! He's the one who designs gnomes.

You work and travel a lot. How do you balance everything?

KR: Yoga. No, I'm kidding, I hate yoga and can't do it at all. Frankly I run probably six days a week, 10 kilometers at a time. I just ran before I came here! No smoking, little drinking, eat organic: I've been doing this for 25 years.

What is one thing you would like to design that you haven't yet?

KR: An electric car. The difference between an electric car and a gas car is that [with an electric] you have no engine, you have 24 batteries on a chassis and then you can do whatever you want. In the old archetype, the front was the engine and the back was storage and you sat in the middle. At this point we can completely redefine that. 

On the flip side, what do you wish you had designed?

KR: Well, that’s a tough question. Human beings? I don't know... When I see things I really like I just respect them and I never get that feeling, "Oh, I wish I had done that."

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