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
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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.”


Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

Updated 14 November 2018
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Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

  • The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books died on Monday, aged 95
  • I’ve been in this business so long dealing with fans that I can really tell within a couple of days of receiving the fan mail whether or not we're on the right track: Lee

Stan Lee, Marvel Comics’ legendary creator of super heroes and super villains, has left behind an enduring legacy for all ages — including for fans in the Middle East.

The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books, who died aged 95 on Monday, created outcasts, misfits, super heroes and extraordinary characters from all walks of life, who found their way into almost every home in the world.

Lee wanted his characters to be “real,” have problems, girlfriends, children, alter-egos, crushes, and to fight with each other; all the while trying to find a place in society like everyone else. In doing so, he won the comic genre success among children, teens and adults alike.

“They’d be fallible and feisty and, most important of all, inside their colorful-costumed booties, they’d still have feet of clay,” Lee once said of his creations.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Arab world was introduced to some of the comics published by Marvel through Behind the Universe (Ma Wara’a Al-Kawn), an initiative by Bizat Al-Rih in Lebanon. With a passion for visual tales and storytelling, editor-in-chief and Lebanese author Henry Mathews oversaw the translation process.

The magazine began with tales of science fiction, bringing in stills from “Star Trek” to tell the story to readers, before moving on to bigger Marvelverse characters that were thriving at the time such as “Spider-Man,” “The Hulk,” “Spider-Woman” and “Fantastic Four.” Later, an additional story was added to the collection, Japanese manga “Grendizer,” which was then animated and became a classic for Arab generations in the 1970s and 1980s.

@huda4comics is an Instagram account that has become a home for comic lovers who wish to relive their childhood by acquiring pieces from the past. They provide customers with collections of translated comics in Arabic and make it easier for people to find them by simply visiting their page rather than looking for stories that have ceased production, such as Behind the Universe.

Huda spoke to Arab News about her collection: “I’ve been collecting these specific publications (Behind the Universe) through many sources. Some I’ve gathered while traveling, others I’ve acquired through sellers online throughout the Arab world.”

Asked whether these rare publications’ value will rise with the death of Lee, Huda said: “I don’t think Arab fans will be affected by it. I think pieces that have been signed by Stan Lee himself, first and limited editions, and original art collections, will be affected by his passing, but not Arabic publications.”

Growing up, Huda had no interest in such collections, but as an adult she became passionate about providing fans with a place where they could get their hands on these rare treasures.

Riyadh-based Naif Alkhairallah, author of “Black Bonds,” got to know about super heroes through “Sesame Street,” which used to feature a sketch of “Spider-Man,” while the first comic book he read was a translated version of “Grendizer” on Behind the Universe.

“Since then, I have become fascinated by the world of super heroes and comic books,” he told Arab News in Jeddah’s first Comic Con in 2017, where he had a book launch.

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of “The 99” and an award-winning entrepreneur and clinical psychologist, shared his memories and thoughts on the influence Stan Lee had on the world of comics in the Middle East. “I had lunch with Lee in the summer of 2007 in Beverly Hills, and had a really nice discussion about the work I was doing and the influence of ‘X-Men’ on ‘The 99’,” he said.

“I could connect with him because I had hired the former head of marketing, the former publisher, and the former editor-in-chief of Marvel — they were all working for me at the time. It was my way of attracting Western talents and my passport into the world of Stan Lee and former Marvel executives,” he said.

Having a team that had worked alongside Lee in some of Marvel’s most successful comics surely had an invaluable influence on helping to create and realize the grand vision of Al-Mutawa’s “The 99?”

Stan Lee made a number of movie cameos in the Marvel universe, including Spider-Man: Homecoming. He has also featured in the X-Men world.

“Absolutely. These are the writers that I used for ‘The 99.’ They’d worked on ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘X-Men.’ One of them was involved in the creation of ‘Deadpool.’ One of my original artists who created the first iteration of the character guide of
‘The 99’ was the same person who did the original ‘X-Men.’ So I would
say definitely the influence was there — both stylistically in the creation of the characters, as well as ideologically,” he said.

With a career that spanned decades, he was instrumental in creating some of the most iconic TV and movie characters. Marvel movies conquered Hollywood, with more than $12 billion in global sales. The witty creator took any chance he could to make cameo appearances in every Marvel movie until his death.

Lee’s influence on the comic scene in the Arab region is very evident.

With more up-and-coming comic creators than ever, Lee’s work has shown that it can stand the test of time. Na3am, a new media company, launched a comic “Saudi Girls Revolution” and “Latifa,” Saudi Arabia’s first female comic super hero game.

In an interview earlier this year, Lee told Arab News that he was pleased by the number of fans that had flocked to the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Although he never visited the Middle East, he said that his fanbase was beyond his expectations.

“It’s incredible that they have one out there,” he told Arab News. “They’ve always treated me kindly and with the utmost respect. They are an A-class show.”

When asked whether Marvel would introduce a Middle Eastern super hero on the big screen, Lee had no doubt it would happen. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Abdulrahman Alhaidari, comic fanatic and instructor at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said that he got into comics when he was very young, before he learned to read. He found the details of the drawing and the epic events that took place in the stories mesmerizing.

“Stan Lee was a legend among all fans of pop culture. We all loved his short appearances in all late Marvel movies, and he really showed us how humble and funny he is in his appearances in ‘The Big Bang Theory’  show. 

“It takes a special character to have all that fame, power, glory, wealth, and yet to remain a down-to-earth, friendly person. I guess he showed us what a super hero he was. He will surely be missed by his fans all over the globe.”

Excelsior!