Karim Rashid

is a prominent and prolific industrial designer whose visionary and award-winning art has transformed the international modern design world.

Drawing Competition - Karim Rashid


Karim Rashid shares an early memory of participating in a drawing competition while travelling aboard the ship that brought his family to Canada from England. 

Karim Rashid: But then we took the ship, and the ship was about 12 days, I think, and there was a drawing competition on the ship. This is why I remember the ship very, very well. There was maybe 100 children on the ship. So we all had to draw, we had, I think, half an hour. I was sitting with my brother and all the kids. I remember this very vividly and I didn't know what to draw at the moment. My father in England, he used to take me... Well, because he was unemployed, he got a job as a security guard until he was waiting for this opportunity with CBC. So he took me to... He would work nighttime shift and he would come in around 5-6 in the morning. And my memory in London was that we lived in one little bedroom apartment. We were very poor. He would fry me an egg, and then I would go with him for the mornings, my mother went to go teach and I would go with him sketching. So we would draw a lot together, my father and I. We would generally draw churches or kind of buildings, architecture. When I was on the ship, I thought, "I was going to draw a building", but then it didn't seem the right context, I remember. And a lot of the children were drawing like family, the ship itself, the sun and water. And I was very fascinated with the fact that we were going to a new country, right? My parents somehow managed to take everything, all our belongings and put them in a few crates, in a few suitcases. So I was fascinated by this idea of this compression of storage and things. So I drew luggage. That's what I drew. I remember drawing the kind of vertical luggage opened with shirts stacked in it and shoes. And I won the competition.

Father’s Influence - Karim Rashid

3 min 3 s

Karim Rashid explains how his father, a set designer and furniture maker, fostered his creativity th...

Karim Rashid: What was nice was we moved into this suburban home, but my father decided to break a wall down and cut a circle to walk through from one room to another. Put huge super graphics going on all the walls. Put up these really strange, interesting posters like flush on the walls. There was a lot of colour, a turquoise chair and we had this pink couch and all these... So, my father was very painterly in his work. He used a lot of colour in the home. He ended up making a workshop in the basement, designing his own furniture. When I watched my father designing his own furniture, and then doing this to the house, then I would go to my friend's houses that were very, most of them were conventional, were quite... I was, I guess in a way, confused. But at the same time, I saw... something poetic and very unique about my father. And then our coffee table... Because he started working at CBC, he would, from the library, borrow books weekly, and we ended with 50, 60 books on the coffee table from everybody you can imagine, from Yves Saint Laurent or Pierre Cardin to Picasso or Fernand Léger or Andy Warhol, all the way to the Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe. So my father, obviously he was very pluralist in his thinking, and he introduced all that to us in a way, and he never forced us to read these books or pushed things on us. I mean, he would draw. We would do this thing Sunday mornings where we’d wake up, The family would draw each other. So we would sit at the breakfast table. After breakfast, I would maybe draw my brother, and my brother would draw my sister, and my sister would draw my dad. You know, it was very nice. We did things like that, but he never really forced us to be, let's say, creative or go into creative professions. But I think the environment and just watching him behaviourally, it was inevitable, in a way. I always wonder this: is it behavioural, or is it your genetic makeup? Or is it just a combination of both? Because my father's father was a furniture maker, too. So there's a lineage there, and even my mother's father was a suit maker for... tailored suits in England. I mean that might be genetically part of us, too. Anyway, so this is inspiring, and so we found ourselves drawing all the time. Then we'd go to CBC. My father on the weekends would take us to [indistinct], because almost every weekend he was working like seven days a week, he'd be working on sets. So we go there to the set and we would see in his office and all the models were being made. We looked at these models and we'd make our own models. We run through the costume department and look at all the clothes. We were brought up around television, in a way.

Introduction to Industrial Design - Karim . . .

4 min 20 s

Karim Rashid explains how he first became interested in the field of industrial design.

Karim Rashid: Well, you know, in school, especially in high school and junior high, I became like the artist of high school. So I was always getting to do the art for murals in the school or I was the kind of consultant as a child. I was 12 years old and I'm telling the principal and everybody where to put the art and I don't know how I got this position but it wasn't really... There was nothing in school that motivated me to do industrial design. What happened is all of those books sitting on the coffee table, there was a book by Raymond Loewy. And he is quite a famous, he was one of the most famous 20th century industrial designers in America. He was French American. And he worked for NASA, he designed the Coca-Cola bottle, and he designed branding for Lucky Strike Cigarettes. So he went from micro to macro, this guy, and he designed the refrigerators Frigidaire. And I was impressed by this, and I was also quite impressed by the objects we had in the home. My father would buy really nice things, very few things, because again, we weren't wealthy. But when he bought something, it was really nice and he bought me an orange Braun alarm clock radio. So beside my bed was this bright orange plastic radius, nice, clean, minimalist object. I ended up loving that thing. I had this white kind of globular speakers, and I had that in my room. That to me was the most beautiful object. And I love music, so the combination of listening and looking at a beautiful thing, I wanted to make products. And I loved plastic and I loved soft things. They just seemed, and I don't even know where that came from. They just seemed so human to me. So... They connected with my body and my mind. There was a calming effect to have those kinds of objects in my environment. And I think some of the furniture my dad did had the same kind of thing. I remember he designed the couch in the living room where he made the fabric, the cushions turned inside out. So in the winter, the colour was more of a wintery colour, and in the summer it was much more of a minty spring colour. So he would do these things and it would make me very conscious of physical objects and things. And I think that's what motivated the industrial design part. But, you know, at the same time, when I was going to university and deciding where to go, my brother and I both decided we'd really go study architecture. And... At that time, you applied for three schools and you prioritized. And I applied for three schools, but I applied very late because I was hesitant, because I was torn between doing fine art, fashion design, or architecture, I wasn't really sure. And the profession of industrial design, it was existing, but very few people knew about it and there were very few schools. And Carleton in Canada was the only school, and it was only a second-year program. So it was very new even and it was part of the engineering department. So by the time I applied for architecture, at Carleton, it was August, and they wrote me a letter saying... My brother got accepted. He applied earlier. They sent me a letter saying, "We could put you into Industrial Design", in what they call architectural stream, which meant that maybe I can do 2 years of industrial design and then segue into architecture. And they told me that in the first two years most of the classes are architecture anyway and engineering classes. So you don't really get into industrial design until the third year. So I thought great. It sounds great. And then when I got there, I realized I always thought that a lot of these products were designed by architects because, for example, the history of Italian design is all the designers were architects. All the fashion designers like Gianfranco Ferré, Romeo Gigli, they're all architects, educated. The product design, coffee machines, Vespas, everything was done by architects. So I just assumed I had to study architecture in order to do industrial design. That makes sense? So by fate, I kind of ended up where I wanted to be.

Discovering True Beauty and Creativity - Karim . . .

5 min 37 s

Karim Rashid discusses how his training in Italy influenced his understanding of global design and t...

Karim Rashid: The Italians did something very clever back in the 50s and 60s and maybe it wasn't intentional, but their language of what they did was quite global. So they did things that were very accepted by the world in a way, you know, and I learned that a little bit. When you do industrial design, I think even if you do a space, but more industrial products, products inevitably need to be global. So if you design a mobile phone and you're gonna have a million people holding it and interfacing it, you gotta think about all the users. But the language of it also has to be collectively accepted. It can't be too colloquial or too culture-specific. That's one thing I kind of learned. There was a certain sense about their language in general and there was a certain, I guess, minimalism in a way. I don't like that word very much, but a more reductive, nice things, beautiful things but more reductive that I appreciated from Italian design, you know. The other part I learned was that they, a lot of them, and a lot of the companies were determined to do something original. And I always believed in that sense of originality. It was the opposite of the way I was even educated. I remember being in Carleton in a drawing class. And our professor was a very famous automotive designer and he worked in Detroit. His name was Jacques Ostiguy, and he was teaching us to draw. And I wouldn't draw the way he was teaching us to draw. But the other 15 students all did the same and I couldn't. And I think I couldn't because starting at the age of three or four with my dad, I learned to draw on a very more artistic or more painterly way or something. I don't know. I couldn't do this stiff kind of thing that he was pushing, and he was very critical of me and gave me a hard time. He called me Chagall. I guess because I was too painterly or something. So through that education and then leaving Canada, and then being in Italy, I realized something, is that the appreciation there was for the creator. And creators inevitably mean... To create means to do something original. A lot of times we misuse that word. We call everything being creative, but to put something into the world that no one's ever thought, to do something unique, inevitably, that should be the case, since we are all unique. Right? So are we collectively trying to make all the industrial designers think the same, work the same, etcetera? Likewise architecture. If you look at Bauhaus, it produced tens of thousands of architects who are all doing the same buildings. So there's nothing creative there, right? So I think that was the real eye opening for me at the age of 22, 23, 24, when I was there, was seeing the passion that everybody, the model maker who'd come into the office, he would come in and carve perfectly beautiful solid wood models, of a television that I was working on. Imagine seeing a solid wood television. It was really beautiful. He was so passionate about the model, but he also even said, "You know, I think you should make it a little narrower." His eye and his sensibility and then who I work for, my boss, and everybody seemed to have a real desire, desirous want to make something beautiful and original. And that was very hard because when I went back to Canada after, I'd go to this design office, and they were the most respected design office in Canada and they'd been around for 30 years. Kuypers, Adamson and Norton, three partners. At this point, when I got there, only Kuypers and Norton were there. Adamson went on his own. And Norton is originally from Saint Martins in England and Kuypers studied in the Hague under Piet Mondrian and Theo van Duisburg, which is kind of amazing. So I really respected their backgrounds and their history, and I loved working with them. The problem was just the clients, the kind of projects, everything was the opposite of Italy, you know? And the expectations from the clients and the lack of respect from the clients was disturbing, shocking actually, you know. A lot of times after a meeting, I would get in the car with Ian or Jan and I would practically be in tears. I would say to him, "This is ridiculous. Why did he even hire us?" These guys already were so entrenched in this kind of way that they didn't even really understand why I'm upset or what's bothering me, because they started to accept all this, you know? They accepted that they were kind of providing a service rather than a creative act, let's say. They saw this as a service act. Industrial design can be all those things, I mean it can be a social act, can be political. It's obviously economic but the creative part is the part that I need, you know? And I think most people are creative. You say, "Look, my son is really creative. My daughter. They should go into design school." Well, there you go. If they're creative in architecture, they can study architecture. Hopefully they have an opportunity in their lives to create something, right? And not just have a job, you know.

More Than a Garbage Can - Karim Rashid

2 min 55 s

Karim Rashid talks about designing “Garbo,” a garbage can he created for his first contract with Umb...

Karim Rashid: And then I contacted Umbra because I was going to Toronto to visit my family. And I thought, "Maybe they'll work with me." I met Paul Rowan and Les Mandelbaum, the owners. They were very nice and gave me a brief, and the brief was to design some wastepaper baskets. So I went back to New York, drew hundreds of wastepaper baskets. You know, made models and sent them all the stuff. They got back to me and they liked three or four of them. I went up to Toronto. We made models of them. And then they decided to show three of the models in housewares show in Chicago. So I flew to Chicago with them. They put them in a backroom to only show their big clients. The big box stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Staples. They would go in and they kind of looked at them and said, "We're going to release this next year." But before they wanted to get feedback because the tooling to make a can like that, which a lot of people don't know, this may be $100,000. Before they want to invest, they want to get sense of... Anyway, the can "Garbo", that I designed was basically vetoed by all the buyers. None of them bought. And Les Mendelbaum was sitting in the booth in Chicago, and he turned to me, "You know, I don't know. They just don't... They think it's too wild, or too progressive." I'm like, "It's just a garbage can. Come on." It's like a big vase, you know? It can be anything, right? This was smart, it was priced well, and the material was gonna be right on. Everything was like really figured out. I made the handles so you wouldn't touch the garbage with your hand. I made a round bottom inside so the coffee wouldn't get caught, you know, or liquids wouldn't get caught. And Les just turned to me and said, "You know, I have confidence in that can. We're going to do it anyway." In fact, I just told him this story. I saw him two weeks ago. And he forgot this story. Basically, companies who have done radical things in this world, they do it on intuition, not on focus groups, marketing and all this. I'm up against this perpetually with every company I work for. So much like decision making. But that's what's nice about working with startups or small companies. This is going back to Italian design. All those companies are just owned by a couple. And they make the decisions. That's why we see things go to market that are interesting. Anyway, and that's how I started with Umbra. That was about 1993, 1994. The can came out in 95 on the market. I remember being so proud, walking through Bed Bath & Beyond seeing a window of the garbage cans. It was like, "Wow!" I felt I finally did something, you know? I was now 35, finally.

Beauty in the Banal - Karim Rashid

2 min 5 s

Karim Rashid talks about the work and creativity required to design even the most banal objects and ...

Karim Rashid: It's interesting because what I was doing at the end of the day, I was getting known for these banal objects that nobody cared about. And I remember sitting on an aeroplane, and I think it was the first time I flew business and I don't know where I'm flying to. And the guy sitting beside me, he picked up that kind of Emporium magazine, looking at all the stuff. We started chatting and he said, "What do you do?" And I said, "I'm an industrial designer." He goes, "What's that?" I said, "Well, I design products and things. Product design, really." He still didn't kind of get it, so I said, "Do you see that stuff in that magazine? We've designed them, things like that." He looked at it and he said, "Oh, really? That's really interesting. What are you working on now?" And I said, "I'm working on a garbage can." And the guy laughed for the next hour of the flight. At that moment I thought, "What am I doing? That's what I'm doing. I'm designing these really banal things." And... And then I turned to him, and I said, "What are you doing?" He goes, "Oh, I own 8% of Pfizer." I'm like, "Wow! You're rich." "I own everything in this magazine", and he put the magazine down. I was struggling, but believe me, I was like so proud I was flying business. I was so disappointed with this idea that these objects around us that people don't even think are designed, they just fell from the sky. And yet there's people, a lot of work behind all this, and that's something else. So then I was kind of determined to be more vocal about design, write for magazines or disseminate as much as I can, do a lot of lectures around the world and really speak about how we all have design around us all the time. And not only we should appreciate it, we should also be critical of it. We want to make the world better, stuff that should be better. And that's been my agenda probably since I started my practice in New York, too.

Influence of Canada - Karim Rashid

3 min 35 s

Karim Rashid reflects on his upbringing in Canada and how it has shaped his personal and professiona...

Karim Rashid: There's a certain humbleness, I think, with Canadians. You know, they're very down to Earth. And I think because really I was brought up in Canada and at the end of the day, I feel Canadian, there's a certain humbleness that doesn't allow me to become this kind of arrogant, "Oh, aren't I famous, aren't I successful, aren't I...", you know? I just keep enjoying and doing what I'm doing and the ups and downs of it. Sometimes I do something really I'm proud of because it really worked. Other times I struggle and have difficulty with the client or something doesn't go to market. Many, many things I design never reach the market. It's amazing in this profession how difficult it is. But I don't... You know... The other thing is I think that Canada taught me something as a child, is that in my classroom, and I'll never forget this, my best friend was from the Czech Republic and my other friend was Yugoslavian. In front of me, there's this girl that I really liked that was Hindu. And there was a Russian girl that I also had a crush on. Anyway, and I was brought up with this real multiculturalism where we didn't see differentiation of colour or race or creed or religion. We just all were there almost collectively as Canadians, you know what I mean? It's quite beautiful. I remember in Toronto too, where I lived, I lived on Queen St. West. Around the corner from me or from my window, I could see this Greek Orthodox Church. But across the street was a whole strip of Polish bakeries, around the corner was Jamaica Town. This kind of diversity I loved. But I never thought, I just thought the whole world was like this. I was kind of naive, you know? And I even remember spending that time in Italy. I'm not really sure if I can live here the rest of my life because it seems so monocultured. Uni-cultured. So if you live in Italy it's almost like, at the end of the day, the food, the lifestyle, the way when you live, when you wake up and all these things start, and you have to accept the culture you're in. If you go to Paris, as multicultural as Paris supposedly is, at the end of the day, it's very French. Or Copenhagen, it's very Danish. I traveled the world, I worked in all the places, and I realized why I ended up in New York, in a way, because New York is like a big Toronto. It still has that same, you know, people from all over the world. But Canada had more of a... a melting pot. They say America's melting pot, but I don't think it really is. I think there's a lot of segregation. So, you know, but with all this said, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I always feel very global. I don't really feel actually until today like, I actually-- My home is New York. But I don't really know where my home is. Yeah? And honestly, I don't go to my apartment and feel I'm home. I don't really feel that. I feel like a lot of times that my apartment is like a hotel. And I stay in hotels every week all over the world, and I'm working in 49 countries, and I travel nonstop. So it's gotten to the point where I don't know if that I enjoy... I don't want to say "enjoy". It's just part of my life, you know? Sometimes I hate it, sometimes I love it, but it's just part of my life. But I think it's from that upbringing in Canada then, and all the moving around since Cairo, and it made me think and see the world differently.