The American Designer, Icon-Maker Karim Rashid Wins 2020 American Prize for Design

The American Designer, Icon-Maker Karim Rashid Wins 2020 American Prize for Design

Rashid’s Philosophy for the Democratization of Quality in Design and His Life-Time Achievements Earn Him the Highest Award for Design in the United States

By Christian Narkiewicz-Laine

Rashid’s Philosophy for the Democratization of Quality in Design and His Life-Time Achievements Earn Him the Highest Award for Design in the United States

In conjunction with GOOD DESIGN® 2020, The Chicago Athenaeum has announced that the visionary and prolific American designer, Karim Rashid has been selected as this year’s Laureate of the prestigious American Prize for Design®.

Karim Rashid is one of the biggest names in the contemporary design market.

He describes himself as “a design pervert, cultural shaper, poet of plastic, digipop rockstar.”

A citizen of the world, Rashid was born in Egypt in 1960, educated in Canada, and now based in New York, the designer is famous for futuristic pop appeal that he has instilled into his design creations.

He belongs to a generation of professionals who have made the bridge between the old notion of design (something hitherto associated with the idea of exclusive and expensive furniture) and its meaning today—a tool for creating popular products that differentiate themselves from competitors by the elegance and advantages of use. He claims that there is a niche of products on market that go unnoticed and require a minimum grace and lightness. So, he began to stand out also in creations of garbage bins and 3Mposted notes, for example.

Rashid is one of the most unique voices in design today.

With more than 4,000 designs in production, nearly 300 awards to his name, and client work in over 40 countries, Karim’s ability to transcend typology continues to make him a force among designers of his generation.

At age 60, Rashid has designed on his own 111 tabletop projects, 59 graphic designs, 46 works of fashion, 306 furniture projects, 34 buildings, 71 lighting designs, 27 hotels, 232 household products, 76 packaging projects, 19 residential designs, 35 architectural materials projects., 102 interiors, and 93 exhibitions. More than 3,000 objects in total.

And that list keeps growing. Or rather, exploding.

His portfolio of works reads like a book of Guinness World Records.

What stands out is that the man is driven.  Scratch that.  Hyper-driven.  At any given point in time he’s got a dizzying array of projects going all over the globe.  Just following his twitter feed is exhausting.  The man is PRO-LIF-IC.

I don’t even know how to stretch the powers of punctuation to emphasize that enough.

Entering the mad design world of Karim Rashid is like being trapped inside a gigantic, rotating kaleidoscope, where the turning and twisting of bits of colored materials between two flat plates against two plane mirrors produce an endless variety of crazed patterns and dizzying possibilities.

“Design is my lifelong hobby” states Rashid. “Design is something that can be so emotional, so experiential, so romantic, so poetic, and so human and yet constantly moves us forward. We must evolve, we must innovate, and we must change. I want to change the physical world.”

Rashid stretches the entire envelope of object and its physical design, crashing through the boundaries like an out-of-control spacecraft that lands into a new, unexplored world of both form and function.

There is no living designer today that bends design with such originality, that reshapes and reinvents the object in its own unique and impressive presence, that recreates the figure, the form, and the aesthetic into something so entirely tantalizing, so fresh, and so completely unprecedented, novel, and inventive.

Rashid actually takes the envelope and shreds it.

He designs and shapes the future, not working off existing trends or styles, but reinvents anything and everything.

Turning it all on its head, that Miesian axiom of less will never be entirely more.

Moreover, with a portfolio that runs the gamut from high-end, high-concept interiors, to mass-market utilitarian objects, and distribution in every corner of the globe and every slot in the market place, his impact is undeniable.

Rashid holds honorary doctorates from the Ontario college of Art & Design and Corcoran College of Art & Design. He holds Honorary Doctorates from Carlton University, Pratt Institute, OCAD in Toronto, British Institute of Interior Design, and Corcoran College of Art & Design he pursued further study in Italy with Ettore Sottsass and Rodolfo Benetto among others.

Karim Rashid

Bump Push and Shove SmartphoneCharger for Puzzle LLC., 2015

Karim Rashid
Church Concept, USA, 2018

Karim Rashid
Heartbeat, 2019 by Karim Rashid for Nienkämper Good Design Award 2019

Karim RashidHyundai PYL X Collaboration Art    Car, 2013

Karim Rashid
Lotte Amoje, Food Capital Food    Court, Seoul, South Korea, 2012-2013.  Photograph by Lee Gyeon Bae

Alessandro Mendini was his great mentor, and his work demonstrates that his one of Mendini’s most adherent devotees.

As a cultural shaper, Karim is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and conferences globally, aspiring to change the world by making design a public subject. He is also regularly featured in print and digital platforms by media companies like CNN, Vogue, and Elle, and countless more.

He disseminates the importance of design in everyday life. Rashid has been featured in magazine and books including Time, Financial Times, New York Times, Esquire, Elle, GQ and countless more.

Rashid’s most recent monograph, “XX” (Design Media Publishing, 2015), features 400 pages of work selected from the last 20 years. Other monographs include “From The Beginning,” an oral history of Rashid’s life and inspiration (Forma, 2014); “Sketch,” featuring 300 hand drawings (Frame Publishing, 2011); “KarimSpace,” featuring 36 of his interior designs (Rizzoli, 2009); “Design Your Self,” Rashid’s guide to living (Harper Collins, 2006); “Digipop,” a digital exploration of computer graphics (Taschen, 2005); “Compact Design Portfolio” (Chronicle Books 2004); and classic titles “Evolution” (Universe, 2004) and “I Want to Change the World” (Rizzoli, 2001).

Rashid got his start not in a world of colorful plastic blobs, but in the realm of engineering. After learning that the architecture program was full at Carleton University, he opted for a degree in industrial design and went on to create x-ray equipment for KAN Industrial Designers, mailboxes for the Canadian postal service, and power tools for Black & Decker. Rashid moved over to Nike, and some other, sexier places—creating the high-profile reputation he has today.

From there, he jettisoned into super star status on his own.

Karim Rashid explains: “At the beginning of my career, I thought the greatest accolade was to be in a permanent collection at a museum. I’ve come to understand that much bigger than that is to walk into someone’s home and see products that I’ve designed. Everyone, collectively, wants Good Design.”

Although he may not have intended it, his works have landed in 20 permanent collections in various art institutions worldwide, including Brooklyn Museum of Art, MoMA, The Chicago Athenaeum, and The Center Pompidou.

Over a decade, Rashid has won a staggering number of Good Design Awards, the most awards by one design practitioner, a number that totals only with Jonathan Ive of Apple Computer.”

Most of Rashid’s Good Design narrative extends to his belief in a true Democratic Design for the masses.

 “Design is about shaping new movements,” adds Rashid, “finding new directions, new solutions, and new aesthetics, so design eventually shapes or results in trends. Design has been the cultural shaper of our world from the start. We have designed products, systems, cities, industrialization; we designed everything in the entire built environment.”

While the majority of today’s contemporary designers pay only lip service to the original modernist concept of a “Democratic Design,” Rashid is in the trenches achieving that exact objective.

His creations are usually plastic and vary widely from the traditional market.

Sometimes referred to as the “Prince of Plastic,” Rashid states: “Plastic has always been important to me. I saw it as the lively, energetic material of all materials. It was the glossy one, the smooth one, the transparent one, the glowing one, the soft and touchy one, the recyclable one, the fluid liquid solid, and the lightweight material that I, as a young child, naively knew was the material of our contemporary world.”

“The notion of design being a ‘high art’ has always felt ridiculous to me, states the designer. “I’ve spent my career trying not to fall into that trap. Early on, companies interested in me were small. They charged more so that they could afford the tooling and the crafting by hand. That’s just what it took to make it. I started to think: Why aren’t bigger companies more interested in design? The designer humanizes our physical and virtual world. Fortunately, things have changed a lot since then. Companies now recognize that design is what differentiates. It’s critical, and demanded,” adds Rashid.

With his appeal to the mass market, mass industry, and the masses in general, his reach allows Rashid to fulfill his ambition of disseminating the importance of design in everyday life—to the everyday consumer as well as the well-heeled design connoisseur.

Rashid has collaborated with clients to create democratic design for Method Products Inc. and Dirt Devil (Techtronic Industries), furniture and lighting for Artemide SpA. and Magis SpA, brand identity for Citibank and Hyundai Motor Company, high tech products for LaCie and Samsung, and luxury goods for Veuve Clicquot and Swarovski, to name a few.

Shunning style in favor of designing in the modus of our time, Rashid designs include luxury goods for Christofle and Alessi SpA.; democratic products for Umbra, bobble for 3M, and Staples Inc.; futuristic furniture for Bonaldo SpA., B-Line srl., Tonelli SpA., RIVA 1920, Martela Oyj., Axo Light srl., BoConcept, Nienkämper, and Vondom; exquisite lighting for Artemide SpA. and Fontana Arte SpA.; high-tech products for Asus and SirinLabs; surface design for Marburg Tapetenfabrik and Abet Laminati SpA.; iconic graphics for Citibank and Sony Ericsson; and award-winning packaging for Method Product Ind., Paris Baguette, Kenzo, and Eos (Evolution of Smooth LLC.).

“It’s part of my job to recognize that notions of luxury, which used to be about marble and diamonds, have changed,” states Rashid.

“Luxury is now about free time and having less. It’s about traveling with no luggage and having the most comfortable seat. I think the master plan—why we are moving to the ethereal and why we’re so connected—is in order for the world to survive. The more immaterial we are, the more the earth can exist. The analog gave us too much stuff. With all these technologies, we’re finding a way for the world to evolve and progress and continue to exist.”

In 2017, he launched Kreate by Rashid, his own line of kitchen utensils and accessories, introducing the Bento Lunch Box for Kreate (2017).

As part of Rashid’s pursuit for a Democratic Design, two of his most stunning, provocative works are the glass Vodka bottle for American vodka brand AnestasiA (2012)

and the “de-constructed” wine bottle for the Canadian winery Stratus Vineyards (2017) owned by Teknion Corporation President/CEO David Feldberg.

The latter won a Good Design Award in 2017.

His “Standard” Bottle Design (2013), the patented 187.5ml glass bottles, were designed by  Rashid  and are made in Antique Green for the white wine and Flint for the red. Each features a Genuine Stelvin® Screw Cap Closure. The bottles were manufactured by Standardglass Co. in partnership with the world’s leading glass container manufacturer, Owens-Illinois, Inc.

“For the longest time design only existed for the elite and for a small insular culture. I have worked hard for the last 20 years trying to make design a public subject,” says the designer.

His designs for democratic objects have won distinguished awards such as the ubiquitous Garbo Waste Can (1995) and Oh Chair (1995) both for Umbra and sold at Target, a Slice “Y” vegetable peeler (2009) for Slice, and interiors such as the Morimoto Restaurant in Philadelphia (2003), Semiramis Hotel in Athens (2008), and sex shops for Fun Factory in Berlin and Munich (2014), as well as exhibitions for Deutsche Bank (2007) and Audi (2005).

For the Athens hotel and the Philadelphia restaurant, he designed every aspect from the architecture to the flatware, from the menus in the restaurant to the staff’s uniforms. 

And most of those designs have appeared in dazzling, effervescent lollipop colors.

“I love pink and techno colors—colors that have a vibrancy and energy of our digital world. There are really millions of colors so it is ridiculous in this life to have a single favorite of anything—favorite song, favorite book.”

Rashid sees the design not only as an area of innovation but as an opportunity of freedom for the consumer. As bigger the variety is, the less tendentious will be consumer choice. The difference and variety of products on the market contribute to what he calls, “construction of our personality through the things we consume.”

With this concept of dynamism, his creations are visionary; futuristic.

As a graphic designer, Rashid has worked creating visual identity for brands like Hyundai, interior and product design for brands like Alessi SpA, Sony Ericsson, Prada, Giorgio Armani and Brazilian Melissa.

“I’m involved with a lot of packaging, which I love doing,” continues Rashid.

“Then there’s branding, which involves a lot of graphic work. I’m working on a new wallpaper line and a new line of carpets. I really enjoy working on surface materials because even though there are all of these amazing materials, there’s still a tendency for banal things to be used. A wood floor is not really a great floor.”

Rashid’s public and professional influence expands beyond product to interiors, including restaurants like Amoje Food Capital (2013) in South Korea; hospitality design for nhow Hotel Berlin (2011) and nhow Hotel Milan (2015) and budget hotels for Prizeotels in Bremen (2013), Hamburg (2014), and Hannover (2015); public environments like Università Station at Metropolitana di Napoli (2011); and retail design for Fun Factory in Berlin (2010) and Munich (2015). Additionally, he has collaborated on innumerable concept exhibitions for clients such as Dupont Corian, Deutsche Bank, PepsiCo, and Audi.

The nhow Hotel Berlin (2011) was a collaborative design with The European Prize for Architecture Laureate, Sergei Tschoban of Nps Tchoban Voss architects, while the Università Station at Metropolitana di Napoli (2011) was an extraordinary collaborative project with The European Prize for Architecture Laureate Alessandro Mendini.

In 2017, Rashid announced that he formed a new vertically-integrated firm that incorporates architecture, investment, and development of new projects across New York City.

Rashid teamed up with his namesake firm’s director of interior design, Alex Loyer Hughes, to form Kurv Architecture.

Current Kurv Architecture New York projects include: 329 Pleasant Avenue (2017), 655 West 187th Street (2017), 1655 Madison Avenue (2013), 30 Thompson Street (2015), and 215 West 28th Street (2015),

In addition, Rashid has developed concepts for a church (2018), a synagogue (23018), and a mosque (2018) in the USA, a stunning tower for a Kismet Hotel (2019) in the USA, and Dongtan Public Planning, Bando, Korea, (2019).

Thinking thus, Rashid states: “Our existence is determined largely by the architecture and objects around us. When transformed for the better, life evolves too.”

Rashid expresses the original identity and vocation of design; the idea of creating “fairy-tale objects,” furniture, lighting, utilitarian objects, and other artworks, which will live forever, through space and time, in a correct, magical, and ultra-functional way.

His work originates from an untouchable, concept-word of intellectual purity that is contaminated by highly-tactile elements—plastic, steel, textiles—but enriched by the human influence of that “H” in the meaning of Humanities; transience, perfection of imperfection, and uniqueness.

Rashid is the materialization of true design aspiration—that tension toward the imperfect of perfection, that which is, a radically, deeply human impulse.

If any designer in the United States stands out among the likes of the dull U.S. car industry, the uninspired, bland U.S furniture market, the copycat Apple knockoffs and derivatives, and the aesthetics-flat American home appliances and houseware products, it’s definitely Karim Rashid.

Hats off to Rashid and his impressive, exuberant career.

Each year, The American Prize for Design is awarded jointly by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies to designers who have made a commitment to forward the principles of design excellence within the context of our contemporary society and who elevated design to a more a profound humanist statement about how our modern contemporary society can advance and progress as a result.

Given in conjunction with the Museum’s historic GOOD DESIGN Awards, which were founded in Chicago in 1950, this Prize honors a specific design practitioner with the highest pubic accolade for producing design that promotes design excellence, innovation, and lasting design.

Candidates for the Prize are sent to The Chicago Athenaeum by design practitioners, press, and educators from around the world and the Museum’s International Advisory Committee, composed of such notable world designers as Richard Meier, Adrian Smith, John Marx, James von Klemperer, Santiago Calatrava, Serqei Tchoban, Graft Architects, and the late Alessandro Mendini.

The Committee’s decisions are based on core criteria: design excellence, innovation, and contributions to humanity and to the public good.

The American Prize for Design is the highest and most prestigious design award in the United States.  

Previous Laureates include Gorden Wagener, Chief Designer and Executive Vice President at Daimler AG., and British architect/designer Sir Norman Foster, and Italian Ferrari Designer, Flavio Manzoni.

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