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.”


Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

Updated 14 November 2018
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Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

  • This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off
  • The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week

DUBAI: Named after the Arabic word for “doors,” Abwab is an annual exhibition at Dubai Design Week, a creative fair that runs until Nov. 17.

This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off their artistic innovations in Dubai Design District, where the event is based.

Two designers were invited from each place to collaborate and produce works related to the theme “Between the Lines.”

The creations are housed in five pavilions at the heart of Dubai Design District, made up of red twigs and newspaper pulp and designed by the firm Architecture + Other Things.

Visitors crowded around the pavilions at the opening of the fair on Tuesday and explored the five spaces with their unique, sometimes perplexing, offerings.

Amman‘s pavilion at the Abwab exhibit is called “Duwar,” roundabout in Arabic, and is described as a representation of the cycle between chaos and order. The exhibit is a walk-through piece featuring moving images on boards suspended from the low ceiling of the circular space. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the dark circular corridor and take in the constantly flashing imagery above them in the piece that was created by multidisciplinary designer Hashem Joucka and architect Basel Naouri.

Beirut’s contribution to the Abwab exhibit is called “Beirut Fillers” and features a series of suspended words in a constructed sensorial environment, complete with audio recordings of the words “euhhh,” “halla2,” “enno” and “fa,” all of which are linguistic fillers commonly heard in Beiruti conversation.  

For its part, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is showcasing a fascinating piece of work called “The Sound of the East Coast” that pays homage to the tradition of pearl diving in the area with shaking, jelly-like bowls. The installation even features audio recordings of the traditional song “El Yamal,” often chanted to keep the divers motivated.

While Kuwait City’s offering, called “Desert Cast,” uses locally sourced materials and production methods to explore the idea of identity in the country, Dubai’s piece at the exhibit is called “Thulathi: Threefold” and is marked by a protruding triangular section that breaks the natural form of the rounded pavilion. Each corner of the triangle opens slightly through apertures, revealing video projections and silhouette cutouts.

The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week, an event that boasts workshops, exhibits and a trade fair.