Dubai continues to leverage design and innovation to transform into a knowledge-based economy. We speak to the individuals helming the entities who are aiming to catapult the city into the region's foremost design destination with a global reckoning. In our second interview, we speak to Mohammad Saeed Al-Shehhi, CEO, Dubai Design District.
What role does your organisation play in developing Dubai's design industry?
Back in 2015, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced his vision for the creation of a design district in Dubai that will be the region’s design hub. Today, Dubai Design District (d3), is home to approximately 500 business partners and over 40 retailers as well as a workforce of over 8,000 creatives.
The core values of d3 are to unite, create and inspire the design community. With this in mind, we have spent a lot of time trying to develop the right environment for the creative community. We understand the level of support they need – whether it’s the opportunity to network with like-minded people, a space to showcase their works, or the opportunity to collaborate with other businesses to create something new and dynamic in the design space.
The precinct also plays host to major cultural and industry leading events such as Dubai Design Week which attracted approximately 80,000 visitors in 2017, placing Dubai on the global design map.
What are some of your programmes that help to support local creatives?
Earlier this year, d3 launched UAE Design Stories; The Next Generation from the Emirates, an exhibition where we presented 11 Emirati designers at the world’s largest design week, Salone Del Mobile in Milan. The project’s next destination is London Design Festival, which will take place in September, followed by Paris in October, and finally back in the UAE for Dubai Design Week in November. This project has, and continues to, actively promote talent in the region and uphold Dubai’s reputation as a creative capital.
We recently launched ‘Design for Good’, a CSR initiative that seeks to connect the design community through creative collaborations that support social change within the UAE.
Under the Design for Good programme, two projects will be rolled out in 2018. The first entitled ‘The Mesh’, comprises of a collaboration between the Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI) and Emirati designer Roudha Al Shamsi.
The organisation has commissioned Al Shamsi to design three shading structures for the community that will be produced by Afghani women through FBMI. The proceeds will be utilised for the education of the women to further develop and enhance their skills. The three structures will be displayed at Dubai Design Week (November 12 to 17, 2018) and then installed at d3.
Through the second project, entitled ‘Design 100’, d3 is inviting designers from across the UAE to design a piece of furniture or a functional object. An expert jury will select the winning piece; 100 pieces of which will be produced by d3 together with knowledge partner, American Hardwood Export Council, and sold to the public during Dubai Design Week. All proceeds from the sales will be allocated to Dubai Cares towards education in developing countries.
How are you supporting regional talent?
Dubai has always has always been geographically well placed to bring together creative talents from across the region as well as from around the world. This unique mix will continue to foster unique collaborations and opportunities for any designer living here.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also recently announced a new set of visa regulations that aim to streamline the professional lives of students, creatives and freelancers in Dubai.
The UAE government recently changed its laws to allow a 100% foreign ownership of companies. This will most certainly lead to a rise in foreign direct investment in the field while boosting the confidence of existing brands that seek to expand in the country.
Our goals are to continue supporting the growth of the design industry in the region by encouraging entrepreneurs and SMEs to be a part of our creative community. We will soon be launching our industry-related programme, which will provide aspiring designers with insights into the industry and an overview of professional career options in the design industry. We will continue to focus on homegrown talent with an international outlook, as well as offer educational courses.
What challenges do you foresee?
One of the ongoing challenges is that residents in the UAE do not view design as a legitimate career prospect, but more of a hobby. We are trying to shed light on the fact that design has such a broad spectrum of avenues that designers can specialise in.
However, Dubais appointment to UNESCO's Creative Cities Network cements its place as a serious player in the global design industry and acknowledges that it is in the same league as other cities awarded this prestigious recognition. As the design scene in the region grows and international acknowledgement is received, the impetus to pursue design-related careers will grow.