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.”

Emirati comedy hopes to appeal to audiences beyond Gulf region

Updated 24 June 2019

Emirati comedy hopes to appeal to audiences beyond Gulf region

  • "Rashid & Rajab" was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr and got a positive reception
  • Director Mohammed Saeed Harib is better known for his work in animation, particularly with the TV series Freej

DUBAI: Trading places with the object of your envy is not always what it seems. Expatriates often live in bubbles, either because they cannot or will not make the effort to integrate, or because when they do, they feel locked out by local communities with established social networks.

As a result, both groups can live very different lives within the same country. Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib explores the theme humorously in his feature film debut “Rashid & Rajab.” The ImageNation comedy was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr, and has been received positively by critics and audiences alike.

“Saturday Night Live Arabia” alumnus Shadi Alfons plays Rajab, a witless but likeable Egyptian fast-food delivery man who swaps bodies with Rashid, an affluent and starchy Emirati businessman (social media star Marwan Abdullah Saleh in his film debut) after a freak accident.

Along the way, they must grapple with questions of nationality, culture, attitude and even different Arabic dialects in a rollercoaster laugh riot that raises questions about whether the other half really lives a better life.

“The grass often appears greener on the other side, but that isn’t always the case, and (it’s important) to appreciate yourself and your surroundings, whatever they may be,” said producer Ali F. Mostafa. “But there’s also equality and solidarity in different cultures. These two people switch souls and experience each other’s lives, but at the end of the day are so close in what they truly want.”

The ImageNation comedy was released across the UAE over Eid Al-Fitr. (Supplied photo) 

Mostafa, familiar for his directorial work on “City of Life” and “The Worthy,” assumes co-production responsibilities on the project, along with fellow Emirati director Majid Al-Ansari (“Zinzana”) and Rami Yasin (“Syriana”).

The trio stepped in to help with technical issues, or whenever Harib needed a sounding board on what is his first live-action feature.

Harib is better known for his work in animation, particularly with the acclaimed TV series “Freej.” He recasts that signature effervescence into a slapstick sitcom approach for “Rashid & Rajab.”

He said: “There’s a common thread between all my creations: I’m either very cartoonish or very poetic, and this film kind of tends to my cartoonish side, so perhaps my spirit is the common denominator between ‘Freej’ and this film.”

Body-swap films are a well-worn genre, but Harib has a knack for understanding regional audiences, which serves this production well.

Combined with the feel-good script and dialogue gags, that could help box-office performance when the film is released in other markets.

Previous Emirati films have struggled to make it in countries such as Egypt, despite pan-Arab approaches and popular themes.

But there’s also equality and solidarity in different cultures.

Film producer Ali F. Mostafa

“We’ve been trying to release Emirati films in Egypt for a while now, and for some reason they don’t do well, even films that we felt had an international appeal,” Mostafa said.

But with “Rashid & Rajab,” Harib taps into a style of comedy that is completely right for the region.

And with half the film set in a very Egyptian tone, and the other half with a Khaleeji speaking in an Egyptian accent, that could really appeal to an Egyptian audience.

The film was shot on location in Dubai, and could soon be screened worldwide thanks to a global sales agreement with the agent AGC International. 

Harib is prepared for criticism, having encountered it with “Freej,” where sections of the audience felt he was not being faithful to tradition.

“It’s amazing how many people want to pick on stuff,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why don’t you go make your own cartoon? You know, showcase our culture in your way.’ That’s my angle. There’s no right or wrong.”


This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.