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For some readers, Karim Rashid is a famous industrial designer whose ultra-bright, ever-positive and organic designs in the fields of interiors, fashion, furniture, lighting, art and music does not need any introduction. Even design-agnostic geeks might have encountered some of his latest objects, for instance in the form of funky portable hard disks or brightly shining laptops.

So how is a ultra-creative and outspoken designer like Karim Rashid connected to the practice of data visualization? Well, if you would have asked me several days ago, I would not have known either. However, luckily Karim recently contacted me, claiming he coined the term "infosthetics" more than 15 years ago. Naturally, I could not leave this claim undocumented, and in return, I challenged him to do an interview.

So, what does Karim Rashid consider aesthetic in information? What are the concepts behind terms like 'blobject', 'infosthetics', 'pleasurtronics', 'technorganic', 'digipop' or 'infotainment'? How will design be able to solve our ever increasing information addiction? And how does the peace-loving-hugging Karim react to the rift between science and art?

Read the interview below!

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1. Lone hobby bloggers like infosthetics sometimes dream about how some famous people might frequent their website. So, is it true? Do you read weblogs regularly? Have content aggregators and curators like blogs changed your work in any way or form?

I do not know about other famous people but I peruse many blogs and read only on the Internet. I have not bought a book, magazine, or paper in 5 years. I am very open and very accessible - I think that blogging is part of our euphoric digital age that has empowered creativity and given everyone a voice, a way to disseminate their opinions, their intellect, their passions, their issues. And so I can read a huge cross-section of people's views regardless of whether they work for the establishments or are anarchists.


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Symbols and Meanings. Note the "infosthetics" symbol.


2. We recently came into contact as you mentioned you coined the term "Infosthetics" about 15 years ago. As I simply took the term as a somehow URL-friendly abbreviation of "information aesthetics", I find your claim very intriguing. Can you describe how or why you invented this term, and what it still means for you today?

I was struggling with understanding what I am really trying to accomplish in design and our changing built environment. I was an associate professor teaching students in graduate and undergraduate design programs for 13 years from 1990 to 2003. In the mid-nineties I realized that the digital age is giving us such heightened experiences (which in turn were obviously going to exponentially increase). I was reading and using books like Virtual Reality by Howard Rheingold and Imagologies by Mark Taylor as well as Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard, and Guy Bachlard. I even had William Gibson and other sci-fi authors on my reading lists. I developed a theory that the digital age is so seductive and so proactive, that the physical world will become banal and passive. So if I was going to design objects and spaces I would have to try and capture, speak about, mirror, and comment on our information age. Hence I saw that our data-driven world could inspire data-driven form and space. Can I visually communicate our information age? And hence I started creating neologisms like 'blobject', 'infosthetics', 'pleasurtronics', 'technorganic', 'digipop' 'infotainment', etc. and used these terms in articles, books, and lectures to inspire us to think about the milieu in which we live.


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World Lounge for Yapi Kredi Bank.


3. Which works of your hand deal in particular with the concept of "infosthetics" and how? If you wish, please feel free to mention a few!

I believe that we have great opportunities to create 'contemporary decoration that is part of our digital and information age, part of our shrinking borderless world, and part of our new movement of individualism, casualism, and spiritualism. I have tried to accomplish these thoughts (not all successful mind you) in my Digipop/infosthetic designs- the new DATAration of Decoration.

With World Lounge for Yapi Kredi Bank I set out to design an interior that is a beacon and an inspiration--a unique experience among a plethora of chain restaurants and duty-free display cases. The space will be memorable for the world traveler, the once-a-year tourist, and the every-day employee. The floor is a radiating wireframe that undulate from the core area to symbolize the digital age, the fact that we are local and global simultaneously, to think about being mobile, transient always, to echo the information age in which we live. We can relax yet be wired, we can be off and ON at the same time. We can be connected yet disconnected.

Kurve! It is like the next evolution of Nooch and Morimoto combined. The difference is that is has more of a digital language. More of what I refer to as infostheticsä or Digipopä. The colors and graphics are stronger and more vigorous and the space is more fluid and even more amorphous. The space is intimate, organic, soft, friendly, and engaging. I think that restaurants need strong identities of differentia from the ambience to the food in order to really offer an alternative especially in a place like New York. But at the same time dining is an event, a human social engaged, and the holistic experience of dining should be always contemporary, innovative and fulgent.


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World Lounge for Yapi Kredi Bank.


4. Do you use any sort of "visualization" (and at infosthetics.com we use a fairly open definition of this term) in your designs or design process?

I look beyond design and architecture to create my work. Generally I am inspired from technology, it's processes, production methods, and softwares. Secondly I am inspired by human social behavior. But I am also very inspired from reading books about sociology (art of travel, Tipping point, Blink, etc), philosophy (Transparency of Evil or System of Objects by Jean Baudrillard), business books on creative thinking (John Kao) science fiction books like Crash by JG Ballard, etc. But Inspiration is accumulative. Everything can be inspiring. It is how you look at the world. I am inspired by my childhood, my education, by all my teachers I have ever had, by every project I have worked on, by every city I have traveled to, by every book I have read, by every art show I have seen, by every song I have heard, by every smell, every taste, sight, sound, and feeling.


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Kurve!


5. What do you consider the "aesthetics" in information?

The world is becoming very aesthetically conscious and info savvy. The energy and times are hypertrophic and contemporary. Society is perpetually interested in being stimulated, in being excited about their physical environment, in demanding better objects, more heightened experiences, and greater beauty. It is the residue of the digital age. If the virtual world is so flexible, so personalized, so complex, and so aesthetic, why not the physical world? I see our new domestic environment becoming more casual, more technological, more aesthetic, democratic, and more engaging, resulting in a softer personalized environment - a Sensualism - minimal but organic - inspired through digital aesthetics. If I could wear glasses that showed me data in space, information that is wired virtually everywhere in space, and energy that is omnipresent, I try and document the immaterial, this virtual information into aesthetic products, spaces, and ornamentation.


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Kurve!


6. You might know the story of Douglas Bowman, the Google chief designer who recently resigned because all design decisions were driven by empirical data. Is your design philosophy influenced by data in any way or form?

I work with my philosophy 'Form follows subject" and the future shapes will be inspired by each products' subject matter -but my interest is to make form as sensual, as human, as evocative, as sculptural as possible trying to find new form that have never existed. Our technological tools are a great inspiration for me to make form that was never possible historically. Designers shape this world and the open-mind sees and experiments with the fluidness of plastic. I used a software program 15 years ago called Metaball that was so inspiring, that I coined the word Blobject based on the kind of forms I could manifest on the computer. I love the digital age as it has afforded us tools that speed up the process, create better precision, better quality, more variance, and the profession is much less hands on, and more in the 3rd order of prosthetics. CNC, Rapid prototyping (FDM and SLA), solid modeling, new production methods, smart materials, parametric programs, etc. has really completely shifted the profession.


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Naples subway station lobby (2010).

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Naples subway station exterior (2010).


7. As data access is becoming truly ubiquitous, the amount of displays has dramatically increased. In fact, I could claim people are more exposed to electronic screens and are touching more glass than all other materials combined. Do you see this narrowness of our everyday experience as a problem in the world of design? Can you imagine designerly solutions to these ways of living while still solving our data addiction?

I think one day our displays will be our wallpaper and / or virtual / and or literally built in our vision. No touching. As technology improves objects and products, fashion, and accessories, interior space, sports equipment, etc. will all be highly customizable, highly personalized, and possibly designed by any individual. This trend is called 'desktop manufacturing' which allows a consumer to build a 3-dimensional object using a device such as a 3-d printer (similar to what is now referred to as stereolithography or rapid prototyping. Besides an individual creating their own business card or letterhead today, they will create or manipulate the physical things in their environment.

Companies will market individualization to address smaller and smaller markets, tribes, and specific 'specialized' groups, as the Internet is affording us today. A car will be completely customized down to the body form, a fragrance will be totally customized, a pair of running shoes, and even body parts. Today this trend of Variance™ is seen in customized laser-cut Levi's Jeans and, bicycle manufacturers, computer configurations, etc. Manufacturers will utilize new 4-d computer numeric machinery, toolless production, and other sophisticated production methods to product in mass production cycles, one-off individually specified products. The other scenario is a consumer using a visual program on the Internet to morph, vary and personalize a product. This 'tool path' information is digitally transferred at the manufacturer site and then produced and delivered to the individual.


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Morph crystal pieces from Nambe from 1998. These Nambe objects were designed with non-serialized random CNC data. They had random cuts created by random software so that each object produced was never the same as the last.


8. You might not be immediately aware, but the data visualization field is plagued with a continuing discussion between the roles of form and function. In particular, scientists and academics have expressed their frustration how techniques from the field of visualization, typically focused on the effective communication of insight, is "misused" by designers that choose the representation of data as a way of artistic expression. I feel sure you have encountered similar discussions around the interpretation of your work. Do you have any suggestions for the parties involved?

To design within the limits of technology today means to design with complete autonomy. Understanding the opportunities of production shifts puts greater emphasis on the idea - the concept of systems, the concept of change, and the concept of meaning. Design and production are already inseparable as technology and Art will become inseparable. With digital randomness and robotic production, there is no original and in turn no art, and in turn no craft. Ideas will be set free in motion and possibly become less-classified and copyright free. The future will celebrate artistic freedom, and unlimited expression. This is not 'misuse'. Academics and scientists have to wax poetic and embrace change, and celebrate human creation and expression. We are amidst a Post-Industrial Age, an age where autonomy, diversity, change, and vicissitude can exist in harmony and technological manifestation.

Globalove, create don't destroy, Karim.


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Portrait of Karim with his tattoos from cities all over the world.

12 COMMENTS

Wow, I was quite surprised to see Karim Rashid's face on an Infosthetics post. I've been mildly intrigued by his objects/furniture in the past. But I never considered him to be working in the realm of info/data. Some interesting answers from him.

Although this response sounded a bit like Stefon on SNL Weekend Update (http://bit.ly/a8zUOG):

"Kurve! It is like the next evolution of Nooch and Morimoto combined. The difference is that is has more of a digital language. More of what I refer to as infostheticsä or Digipopä"

;)

Tue 29 Jun 2010 at 5:54 AM

He lost me as soon as he said "other famous people." His ugly work has polluted the world. Globalame.

Fri 02 Jul 2010 at 6:41 AM
Babaloo

@ "His ugly work..."

if not for the Karim's of the world pushing things forward, you wouldn't have your fancy iPhone deity Babaloo.

And most shit produced would be either circle or square in form. wow, exciting days those would be.

Globlcheckyourself to you sir.

Sat 03 Jul 2010 at 11:57 AM
kanye

I never "got" Karim Rashid. His work always struck me as gaudy in an awful mid-90's cheesy pseudo-futuristic way. The balance/harmony, the palette, the execution....none of it has ever made me think or feel anything other than "eh".

Mon 05 Jul 2010 at 5:37 PM
Tim

To quote a common phrase from one of the best designed communities online: "Fuck everything about this."

Fri 09 Jul 2010 at 8:56 AM
Hiro Profane

I agree with Babaloo and Tim.
I really don't think a person should be proud to have not read any print media in 5 years.
And who cares where his tattoos are from? Maybe "other famous people". Bleh.

Tue 13 Jul 2010 at 7:41 AM
van

Before folks start getting into a froth about the "other famous people" quote, note that it directly follows from the wording original question; you could equally read it as a tongue-in-cheek response to being indirectly referred to as famous...

(Disclosure: I don't like Rashid's work but doesn't make me less interested in what he's thinking)

Thu 15 Jul 2010 at 3:31 AM
robbie

Good, perceptive questions and some rather daft, absurd answers. No denying his production of some interesting work though.

Tue 10 Aug 2010 at 5:12 AM
baz

many images are not visible

Sun 22 Aug 2010 at 12:19 AM
dan

Wow, If the world is going to move forward at all, we collectively must realize that designed abejects such as his only contribute to polluting the landfills.....People who purchase his stuff must wonder what to do with it after the epiration date. The thrift store already are full of barbie toys.

Sat 09 Oct 2010 at 7:35 AM
Dana

I'm an admirer of Karim Rashid, and i'm pretty sure that he doesn't really care about what his critics think about his work. Keep up the good work, Karim!

Mon 08 Nov 2010 at 2:18 PM
T. E. Samad

I totally agree with Priscilla Ainslley, It is easy to criticize others. If you don't understand or like something keep it to yourself. If you cant say something good then don't say something bad either. I like Karim Rashid, his work is interesting. Keep it up Karim.

Sun 07 Aug 2011 at 8:21 PM
Gunit Keer
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