A pioneering university is welcoming a new generation of change-makers ready to make their mark in the Gulf and beyond

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Students at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, including scholarship winner Ayesha Al-Suwaidi, putting the finishing touches to a design piece. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 September 2018

A pioneering university is welcoming a new generation of change-makers ready to make their mark in the Gulf and beyond

  • The spotlight is on design because creative people have realized they now have opportunities in this field and new jobs have been created
  • It’s not about making pretty things but about coming up with creative solutions to problem solving

DUBAI: A passion for creativity and the chance to “make a difference” led to Abdulaziz Zamil Alzamil becoming one of the first students in the UAE to pursue design as a career.
The 19-year-old Saudi national, who was born in Jeddah and partially raised in Riyadh, discovered his love for the field two years ago during a three-month internship at his cousin’s advertising and marketing agency.
“I got to experience what it was like working in the creative field, and I got to see how many different jobs in design work together and influence each other,” he said. “I got the chance to really understand the full process of design. We were working on projects for a range of different clients, from food companies such as Almarai to banks and automotive brands.”
After much practice during his free time at home, he took his creativity to the next level. “I enjoyed being creative so much that I started some freelance work in branding, creating logos for small shops,” he said. “I knew I wanted to pursue design as a career and when I was searching for design schools, I came across an advert for the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI).”
The first multi-disciplinary design university in the Middle East officially opened its doors for its inaugural year of teaching last week. Welcoming students from across the GCC and the world, DIDI is an important step, not only in design education, but also for the design industry in the Middle East.
“I feel like DIDI has a new way of teaching and thinking about design,” Alzamil said. “They were different to every other design school that I came across. DIDI focuses on taking design to a whole other level, and I feel like design is everything in DIDI’s perspective, so I wanted to be a part of that.”
He said design is much more than just fashion or graphic design, as most people might think. “I really liked the fact that you can study multi-disciplinary courses at DIDI, so I won’t graduate in just one subject, and this wasn’t available at any other university,” he said. “I feel like DIDI offers lots of options, and this is really important to me.”
The young student moved to Dubai to immerse himself in the design community and the opportunities the city offers. “It feels like home,” he said. “The Middle East has started to change when it comes to design, with more people taking notice of the possibilities in the field.
“Saudi has really started to change. The spotlight is on design because creative people have realized they now have opportunities in this field and new jobs have been created. It wasn’t accessible before.”
For Alzamil, design is a vital industry not only for the region, but also the world. “It is great that we joined the world in showcasing this message.”
Alzamil, who is one of seven siblings, said his parents were initially surprised at his career choice. “But they were also supportive and very happy that there was a university such as DIDI for me to study at that was still close to home,” he said.
“I am so grateful that I can pursue my dreams in design but still be close to my family.”
He hopes to become an art or creative director for a global agency after graduating and then start his own design company. “That is my goal,” he said. “My passion is for furniture design, so I am really looking forward to learning more about product design at DIDI.”
Alzamil believes the skills he acquires will offer a fast track to higher positions, which usually take from three to five years.
“For me, it is all about the opportunity, so if the chance to work back in Saudi comes up, then that would be something I would consider,” he said. “It is more about putting to use everything I will have learnt at DIDI in a well-known company that is making waves in the design world.”
Ayesha Al-Suwaidi, an Emirati classmate, won a scholarship at the institute. She hopes to use design in problem-solving and strategic areas in the future.
“I have had a passion for design since I was a little girl,” she said. “Growing up, I always knew design was what I wanted to pursue for my career. I love the idea of taking an issue and using design to solve it. Problem-solving and strategic design is what interests me the most, so I’m really hoping to work in this field after I graduate.”
She found out about her scholarship a few days before her birthday. “It really was the best birthday gift ever,” she said. “I cried with joy, I couldn’t have asked for more. All I wanted was to study at DIDI, and without the scholarship it wouldn’t have been possible.
“This opportunity has changed my life and given me opportunities I could never have imagined for my future.”
Al-Suwaidi said design was a fundamental pillar in the Middle East due to the region’s unique culture and Islamic art.
“Design here is getting more exposure, which is great,” she said. “Our city is a multicultural environment, which allows design in the region to develop and become very interesting as more people move here. Dubai itself is design-led — it’s sleek, elegant and beautiful, gearing up towards Expo 2020, which is very exciting for us.”
According to the Dubai Design and Fashion Council, the region will require 30,000 design graduates by 2019, with most demand in architecture, fashion and interior design. Meanwhile, the Middle East’s design industry is expected to grow by 6 percent from 2015 to 2020, with the design market valued at $27.6 billion in the UAE and $21.9 billion in Saudi Arabia.
From 2011 to 2015 alone, regional design grew at more than double the pace of the global industry, surpassing $100 billion in value.
“We were looking at how to help the region become more globally competitive in design,” said Leigh Khosla, chief operating officer at DIDI. “We felt there was a very strong investment in the mindset in infrastructure, but we saw an emerging trend in talent being developed here locally.”
Design, according to the institute, means “solving the world’s greatest problems. It’s not about making pretty things but about coming up with creative solutions to problem solving,” Khosla said. “We worked with MIT and Parsons on a forward-thinking program. Our goal is to prepare them for the real world through hands-on problem solving.”
Khosla said design crosses all industries. Developing interactive ways for people to share cultural experiences during anticipated lengthy Expo 2020 queues was one example of the variety the career offered, she said.
“We’re trying to create the next generation of change-makers,” she said. “We’re hoping our students (will be) pioneers creating that change in the region in the future.”

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week 2018. (Arab News)
Updated 19 November 2018

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

  • The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week showcased 150 innovative designs created by students from around the world
  • Designs ranged from high-tech solutions to simple objects

DUBAI: Highlights from the Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week, which showcased 150 innovative and potentially life-changing designs created by students from around the world, ranging from high-tech scientific solutions to conceptually simple physical objects.

Ukranian designer Olga Zelenska says her work “focuses on simplicity, sustainability and aesthetics of design,” and “From Nowhere With Love” delivers on all three. It’s a set of biodegradable postcards, designed for “migrants and modern nomads” to allow them to take a piece of their homeland’s nature with them wherever they travel. The postcards contain seeds specific to the plant life of the country or area in which they are bought. Those seeds can then be planted wherever the buyer — or the recipient of the postcard — wishes. (We’re not sure they’re guaranteed to grow well, but you get the idea…)

Yara Ahmed Rady is a product design student at the German University in Cairo. Her GGS project “Dyslexia Learning Difficulty” is designed to help dyslexic children learn Arabic through a series of exercises that use conventional teaching techniques which Rady has transformed into educational games using digital technology and engaging all five senses, thereby, she wrote in her project description “offering alternative routes to literacy.”

One of the questions that GGS was attempting to answer this year was “How do we do more with less?” South Korean designer Yesul Jang, currently studying in Switzerland, came up with a product which addresses the needs of the ever-growing number of people living alone in small apartments or rented rooms in urban spaces. “Tiny Home Bed” is a raised bed with storage space — covered by a sliding fabric curtain allowing easier access than drawers — beneath. The frame is constructed of lightweight wood and is, Jang insists, “easy to construct.” Just as importantly, it’s not an eyesore.

After several years of working in the sportswear industry, London-based designer Jen Keane wanted to come up with a more sustainable way to make products. By combining digital and biological technology, she created a strong, lightweight, hybrid shoe that is made partly from bacteria. “I weave fibers into the shape and the bacteria grows around it,” Keane explained to Arab News. “It’s kind of a scaffold.” Keane added that she created the shoe in her kitchen at home. “I don’t have a lab,” she said. “I don’t have a [science] background. I learned how to do this by reading a lot, experimenting and talking to biologists. It’s totally doable.”

Sustainability also factored into Christian Hammer Juhl’s thinking when the Netherlands-based Danish designer was creating his inflatable furniture collection “10:01.” Made from dense foam material, the furniture can compress down to 10 percent of its original size (through a process similar to vacuum packing). So it’s not only ideal for modern transient lifestyles, but also means that transport from factory to retailer is more sustainable too.

Billed as “clothing that can save your life,” David Bursell’s “Tardigrade” is the jacket you’re going to want to be wearing when the zombie apocalypse hit. Or, you know, a more conventional kind of Armageddon (Bursell says it was “inspired by climate change and the increasingly extreme natural and social crises it will trigger”). “Tardigrade” can be transformed into a shelter, a shoulder bag, a hammock, and any number of other things. It’s detatchable pockets can be used to collect water and other material. A warning though: at the moment, the jacket aids survival for “three to seven days,” so you might want to invest in several if things get really bad.

“It’s flying lighting for urban safety,” designer Jiabao Li told Arab News about “Twinkle,” which she co-designed with fellow Harvard student Honghao Deng. Basically, flying drones clamp themselves to lampposts during the day to recharge their batteries, and at night they head to poorly lit neighborhoods. “They fly off to follow people around and provide sufficient lighting to guide their way. Like fireflies,” she explained. Both designers describe their creations as “living” creatures. “They’re curious animals,” said Deng. “We don’t think they should be owned. They should just be living around the place.” Li and Deng are currently talking to various governments trying to get permission for a trial run.

Developed by a team of students from the Art University of Isfahan, “Naji” is an ingenious product designed to provide assistance in times of severe flooding. In normal situations, the device — four rectangles constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate (“resilient and buoyant”) with holes in — forms part of the base of streetlights, and the designers claim it will fit into existing infrastructure without the need for additional construction. If an area floods, however, the device floats to the surface of the water and provides a place for people to sit safely in one of the squares, strap in and await rescue.

Another team project, this time from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “Acorn” is designed, according to the team’s statement “to be entirely beneficial to the environment.” Lead designer Zhang Liye told Arab News that the project is specifically intended for use in desert cities like those in the Gulf “because the soil lacks minerals and nutrition.” “Acorn” is an easy-to-assemble biodegradable plant base made from compressed crop waste that you simply bury in soil so that it can provide that missing nutrition to your plant.

A great example of how designers at GGS tackled another question: “How can technology make us more human?” In other words, how can we make life easier for people in tough situations? “Sahayak” is designed for porters working on railway platforms in India, who traditionally carry luggage on their heads, which can create several long-term health issues. “Sahayak” is a backpack that transfers the weight of their loads from their heads to their shoulders and protects the spine. “The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring to distribute the load throughout the backpack’s frame, reducing the load borne by the user’s head and neck by 75 percent,” designer Risbagh Singh claimed in his GGS statement.