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Key Notes: Takeaways from Karim Rashid’s BDNY Address

(November 2016) posted on Tue Nov 22, 2016

TED-like talk provides a primer for designing in the digital age.


By Oriana Lerner

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I’m not a material girl. You’re not a material girl or boy. That was Karim Rashid’s message for attendees at the keynote speech that kicked off Boutique Design New York (BDNY) 2016.

Karim Rashid
Karim Rashid delivers his keynote address at BDNY 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Boutique Design

Rashid’s wide-ranging talk on innovation and inspiration in the digital age centered on the idea that thinking of design as just a “style” is an outmoded approach. According to the prolific designer (and recent BD cover subject), living in a digital age means that design needs to be an organic outgrowth of modern people’s needs—and that’s a whole lot less about “stuff” and a whole lot more about form meeting real function.

It’s also about leaving the past in the past.

“We need to create design so that our digital world is reflected in the physical one,” he said. “If you just go through the archives of history and say ‘I like Brutalist style’ or ‘Belle Epoque style,’ you are talking about something that’s over.”

The period we live in now isn’t a style, it’s a movement. Technology is key, accord to Rashid. “For a hotel I did in Athens, I wanted to have each guest get a ring that would check them in, make the elevator go to their floor and then set the lights, etc., in the room,” he said. “That was expensive to do at the time, but it was really important to me.” Innovations like digital walls that can be customized to be whatever the guest wants might replace art walls.

Rashid also took time to dwell on just how much designers today need to really think about what makes something “work.”

“If I’m asked to design a chair, I need to stop and take apart what the client needs—if it’s a client on a budget or a manufacturer like IKEA, I need to find a materiality that works for them, probably a plastic,” he said. “There’s 12,000 different polymers—do I choose one that is biodegradable or eco-friendly in another way? I did a chair made from a sugar-based product. Then, I need to think about the shape of the chair. People’s body language is more relaxed now, so I might recline the chair a few more degrees.”

This digital age also empowers everyone to be a designer. “There are over a billion photos taken every day—everyone can create,” he said.

No excuses!


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