Re­fram­ing our un­der­stand­ing of de­sign

De­sig­in­ing pro­cesses and out­comes

Executive Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Words by Olga Habre

though the de­sign in­dus­try has pro­gressed into ter­ri­tory far be­yond the cre­ation of at­trac­tive ob­jects, de­sign­ers in Le­banon still strug­gle with mis­con­cep­tions about their sec­tor hen you men­tion de­sign, o en the rst things that come to the minds of non-de­sign­ers are the heav­ily-beaded dresses of Elie Saab, or ads for sparkling bi­joux lin­ing the Dora high­way. Some peo­ple may think of stand-out tow­ers in Down­town Beirut, or un­usual pieces of fur­ni­ture they’ve seen at trendy bou­tiques. There might be oth­ers who re­mem­ber that graphic de­sign was a ma­jor at their uni­ver­sity, or know of a per­son who de­signs web­sites for a liv­ing.

These are all de­sign in its most ob­vi­ous forms. But as the sec­tor moves into the fu­ture and more de­sign dis­ci­plines emerge, de ning the term de­sign is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly di icult. hat ties all de­sign dis­ci­plines to­gether is a fo­cus on cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. De­sign is be­com­ing less about end re­sults and more about the pro­cesses that get you there. It’s not that out­comes don’t mat­ter, but func­tion­al­ity is far more im­por­tant than phys­i­cal form. Ghas­san Salameh, de­signer and creative di­rec­tor of Beirut De­sign Week (BDW), says we need to stop think­ing about de­sign as only prod­ucts: eo­ple think of de­sign as only fur­ni­ture and lux­ury. It doesn’t re­ally need to be about ob­jects, it could be sys­tems or other things, he ex­plains.

The term de­sign think­ing has be­come a bu - word of late, but the idea is one that’s driv­ing many sec­tors, in­clud­ing busi­ness, tech­nol­ogy, en­ter­tain­ment, and so­cial change. De­sign think­ing ap­plies a step by step guide that is, at its heart, user-cen­tered. Key fea­tures of de­sign think­ing in­clude a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and sub­se­quent back-and-forths with fu­ture end-users, plac­ing the lat­ter squarely within the de­sign

process. Dima Boulad, a de­signer and head of en­trepreneurial pro­grams at MENA De­sign Re­search Cen­ter (MENA DRC), says, The role of de­sign is very linked to un­der­stand­ing prob­lems by lis­ten­ing and ob­serv­ing. It’s see­ing an op­por­tu­nity to de­sign some­thing bet­ter, see­ing that there’s a gap here or there, and then de­sign­ing for it. That ul­ti­mately means de ning ex­actly what that prob­lem is, then tak­ing a step back to re­frame and chal­lenge as­sump­tions. A lot of the time you think there is a prob­lem in one place but re­ally you’re not look­ing at the right prob­lem, she says.

This kind of aware­ness of de­sign is nec­es­sary in Le­banon. The lo­cal de­sign com­mu­nity is in­creas­ingly work­ing on re­fram­ing the con­cept of de­sign for both ex­perts and the gen­eral pub­lic. Not only does a bet­ter grasp of de­sign mean more sec­tors can reap its bene ts, but, as Boulad ex­plains, it also saves time for de­sign­ers al­ready work­ing this way. It’s part of my duty as a de­signer to help peo­ple un­der­stand what they can do us­ing de­sign. At the be­gin­ning of meet­ings with clients in Le­banon I have to waste time pitch­ing what de­sign can do, she says, adding that this step isn’t nec­es­sary in coun­tries where there is a greater aware­ness of the wider ap­pli­ca­tions for de­sign.

De­sign­ers them­selves need to be more aware of in­ter­na­tional best prac­tices and in­no­va­tions, with in­dus­try events try­ing to bring that knowl­edge to lo­cal de­sign­ers. MENA DRC’s ag­ship event BDW has for years now been im­port­ing de­sign ideas and shap­ing di­a­logue. Its 2018 edi­tion, held in May un­der the theme De­sign in the City, looked at ways de­sign can help com­mu­ni­ties. One of the top­ics ad­dressed in a round­table was gov­er­nance, or how de­sign could help the pub­lic sec­tor cater to res­i­dents’ needs, po­si­tion­ing the Lebanese govern­ment and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as places in which de­sign­ers should be more in­volved. An­other round ta­ble dis­cussed ways of de­sign­ing a more in­clu­sive city (for refugees and other ar­riv­ing com­mu­ni­ties). Us­ing prob­lem-solv­ing to bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions is un­der­utili ed as a way to em­ploy de­sign in Le­banon. Events like these em­power peo­ple to think about chal­lenges and how to solve them through co-cre­ation and de­sign, says Boulad.

This year, BDW pur­posely en­cour­aged col­lab­o­ra­tions, not just among de­sign­ers but also be­tween de­sign­ers and other sec­tors, try­ing to bring in a wider range of par­tic­i­pants. The de­sign of the event it­self in­volved de­cen­trali ing from its pre­vi­ous hub, KED in Kar- antina, to have more events in di er­ent spa­ces around the city.

An­other event, Beirut De­sign Fair, which is due to hold its sec­ond edi­tion in Septem­ber, is also ap­proach­ing its own de­sign more strate­gi­cally by in­tro­duc­ing a life­style lounge rather than a (typ­i­cally Lebanese) I lounge, with more spa­ces for at­ten­dees to en­gage. One of the re­gion’s largest in­dus­try events, Down­town De­sign in Dubai, is sim­i­larly plan­ning for its up­com­ing No­vem­ber fair to be a more dy­namic and en­joy­able space, un­der the theme of Liv­able Cities, a signi cant topic in Dubai’s con­text. Fair Di­rec­tor Rue Kothari says, The de­sign of our fair is key to cre­at­ing at­mos­phere, to re­tain­ing our au­di­ence, and to cre­at­ing the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for our par­tic­i­pat­ing brands to do busi­ness. This year, that event ad­dresses how to build healthy, happy com­mu­ni­ties with strong ur­ban plan­ning, in­no­va­tion, and tech­nol­ogy, she says, which in­cludes a fo­cus on ma­te­rial in­no­va­tion and, like BDW, creative col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Ad­di­tion­ally, U B, Le­banon’s rst global User Ex­pe­ri­ence (UX) event, was held at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Beirut. Over two days, in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers and dig­i­tal ex­perts gave hands-on work­shops and talks to stu­dents, de­sign­ers, en­trepreneurs, and agen­cies on the lat­est trends in de­sign and user ex­pe­ri­ence, an in­creas­ingly rel­e­vant de­sign eld world­wide and lo­cally.

Do­ing things the de­sign think­ing way means de­sign­ers need to know how to de­sign with a speci c con­text in mind. But de­sign­ing so­lu­tions for speci c sit­u­a­tions and groups re­quires a true un­der­stand­ing of needs, which takes time to re­search. In fact, de­sign think­ing is long-term think­ing—not ex­actly a strength in Le­banon, a coun­try where prob­lems abound and quick xes have be­come a means to sur­vive. De­sign out­comes need to be thought through long term, and de­sign­ing e ec­tive pro­grams, spa­ces, prod­ucts, cam­paigns, and ini­tia­tives re­quires fol­low up, not just im­ple­men­ta­tion. Boulad ex­plains that, in gen­eral, not enough peo­ple are will­ing to in­vest in long-term, sus­tain­able so­lu­tions. It en­tails tak­ing a lot of time re­search­ing be­fore get­ting to the ac­tual work, she says. Many Lebanese com­pa­nies want fast, cheap re­sults, rather than well-de­signed strate­gies that take more time to de­velop. The lat­ter ul­ti­mately work bet­ter and thus save time and money in the long run, but many still don’t see this value, per­haps be­cause, in Le­banon, time is money, and the econ­omy isn’t con­ducive to long-term in­vest­ment.

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