Editor’s Note: Karim Rashid is one of this generation’s most prolific and celebrated designers. He was CNN Style’s guest editor for September 2015, writing a series of features on design in the digital age.
After 100,000 years of analog living we have crossed the Rubicon to a new era. The digital age is upon us and it’s changing everything.
On a broad scale, digital technologies dictate how we interact. The digital age modifies our behaviors and habits. It brings us together in endless social permutations. It eradicates borders. It empowers individuality and creativity. However, the influence of the digital revolution can also be felt in places you would not expect.
From floors to furniture design, wallpaper and packaging, from interiors and architecture to fashion, the digital age is impacting design like never before. My agenda is to visually create these changes, to recognize the existence, and to make the physical world as beautiful and savvy as the digital.
Our knowledge of human existence is built on eons of analog life. We learn everything about our vox populi through our physical artifacts. Now – for less than 40 years – we live in the digital age, an immaterial time far less steeped in the material. I consider us ‘Bioneers’ of the digital age and we have just barely scratched the surface of what is possible.
The analog age is a thing of the past, disconnected from our present time. The analog age was material, permanent, static, overly-specialized, rigid, wasteful, and based on scarcity. It was driven by craft and the Industrial Revolution.
Conversely, digital is lightweight, dematerialized, kinetic, temporary, casual, extensive, transparent, relaxed and four dimensional. How can it not be when we have holographic tech, real-time visual telecommunications, advanced CAD software, and effortless 3D printing?
So what will happen to our material world as we transition from analog to digital? How will it catch up to our data-driven era?
Presently the physical world is being seduced by the lucrative, highly experiential infinite possibilities of the digital age. This is the realm where what we dream and imagine becomes tangible and interactive, giving more heightened experiences to our physical world. This is the shaping of our future.
Throughout my many design projects I strive to reflect and embrace this digital age, be it a production method, a new material, a product, a space, a building, a city, or a new way of living.
I work with a digital vernacular and spirit to shape a new physical language. I use the term ‘Techno-organic’ to refer to the coalescence of the organic amorphous natural world with our third technological revolution.
When I adorn an object or space, I work to contemporize it, make it speak of the now, the digital. The recent wallpaper collection I designed for Marburg, called Globalove, is an example of this language, characterized by filigree silver netting on psychedelic graphics or on dark backgrounds, in a dynamic color spectrum. It is my way of documenting the period in which we live.
Thought becomes form
3D printing is a method we use often at my studio. Using CAD programs and our in-house 3D printer, a prototype is available instantly. Thought becomes form.
To realize and shape an object in 3D space allows me to experience and interact with a product and revise as needed. It is indicative of the rapid prototyping across the design industry. An object is created in the moment, and its evolutionary process is guided seamlessly.
Objects now are inspired by digital space and its vernacular. Many new forms have never been possible to make before the development of CAD programs and new modes of manufacturing. A few of my design projects come to mind, each representing the transitional phase of design we inhabit.
The Woopy armchair, made for B-LINE, is one solid, sensual piece of roto-molded plastic. The Solium lamp, made for Artemide, is similarly a flowing, curvaceous single shape. Today, digital technology can add emotion and meaning to the flat dull world that modernism shaped.
Let’s not forget that the world we live in now was completely designed in 2D. I grew up in that world using a T-square, triangles and other obsolete design tools. Hence our built environments are a result of designing in 2D. Our world is mostly Cartesian, with grids controlling our lives.
Credit cards are rectangular to fit into the 1.6 million ATM machines in the world. When I designed credit cards for Citi bank I desperately tried to change the form of the card but I was restricted by this condition. When I design refrigerators for LG electronics, TVs for Samsung, kitchens for Rastelli and Aran, I must stick to a gird to meet the present formats created by the 2D world.
Most architecture is 2D consisting of 2D components like flat windows, window frames, doors, baseboards, drywall, cladding panels, etc. these materials grew out of the economy of means and capabilities of the machine age, being cheaper to produce something was with straight cuts and two-dimensional surfaces.
Optimal beauty and function is the goal. In the future it won’t just be our objects that are shaped by this editable, digital spirit. We will have what I refer to as a GLOBJECTs - global object on demand.
That is an object that transcends place, culture, and creed; is nomadic and omnipresent to the celerity of our new social behaviors. Objects that may be designed in one country, produced by another, manufactured with parts form several locations, and assembled in anywhere in the world.
These products would be produced on demand in the place where they are consumed – therefore nothing is shipped all over the world because things are made locally to the same standards as the original. This new collaborative way of designing, distributing, and manufacturing is the embodiment of the digital age. When we produce only what we need, when we need it, we can reduce unnecessary drawbacks and waste.
Never before seen
I believe in searching for new vernaculars that communicate our Techno-organic digital world. The new digital era has little to do with the past, hence our physical world needs to free itself of the past and become as autonomous as a microchip, as infinite as binary notation, as communicative as data, as colorful as our digital screens, and as customizable as our smart devices.
In order for companies to succeed in the future, they must utilize technology seamlessly, from construction, production, and process to human interaction, all while shaping new identities, new traditions, new experiences and embracing and taking ownership of their own brand culture.
Everything we design should be smart and beautiful with optimal performance being inseparable. It should be a continuation of the originality and experimentation of digital languages.
There is a major schism between the analog and digital and the cracks are showing. Today especially, design must prove its worth and address the inhuman built environment to give us elevated, more pleasurable, more qualitative, aesthetic humanized seamless conditions.
Design must evolve us – and create a beautification and betterment for society. The future shapes will be inspired by each product’s subject matter and an intention to make form as sensual, as human, as evocative, and as sculptural as possible. We will see new forms that have never existed.
Video by Tawanda Scott Sambou, CNN