Driv­ing Saudi de­sign

Saudi De­sign Week cu­ra­tors and co-founders Basma and Noura Bouzo on why their fifth edi­tion is their most im­por­tant to-date


As a proud me­dia part­ner of Saudi De­sign Week (SDW) 2018, id had the chance to speak with founders and cu­ra­tors Basma and Noura Bouzo about this im­por­tant an­niver­sary that marks half a decade of the event that brings to­gether de­sign­ers and cre­ators for a global con­ver­sa­tion in Riyadh about the fu­ture of in­no­va­tion in the re­gion and beyond.

“This year’s event [which takes place from 4 to 7 Oc­to­ber] will sur­prise vis­i­tors when they see how each de­signer has tack­led [the sub­ject of] sus­tain­abil­ity. The event will im­merse the vis­i­tor in the theme through prod­ucts and in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tions that will put them at the cen­tre of ‘ Sus­tain­abil­ity and De­sign’,” says Basma.

Over 80 par­tic­i­pants from ex­hibitors oc­cu­py­ing more than 5000 m2 of space and show­ing 30 unique de­sign ac­ti­va­tions, in­clud­ing the Ma­te­rial Lab and De­sign Mar­ket, will ex­plore the theme through­out the week.

The or­gan­is­ers se­lected this year’s theme of ‘Sus­tain­abil­ity and De­sign’ be­cause of its in­dis­putable im­pact on the re­gion and the world. Fo­cus­ing specif­i­cally on tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion from across dis­ci­plines, the thought­fully cu­rated events will bring to­gether many voices to dis­cuss di­verse ap­proaches to prob­lem-solv­ing and reimag­in­ing so­lu­tions.

“Sus­tain­abil­ity is very im­por­tant world­wide. In Saudi Ara­bia, we live in a mostly desert na­tion, yet all re­sources are avail­able to us abun­dantly. With­out ap­pre­ci­at­ing and fos­ter­ing sus­tain­abil­ity we risk los­ing a lot of re­sources and this is a very im­por­tant point that we would like all our de­sign­ers to make this year,” says Basma.

As a spe­cial part of the fifth an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, the events will travel to five dif­fer­ent cities through­out the month of Oc­to­ber. The mov­ing ‘ de­sign car­a­van’ will­show­case unique prod­ucts cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional crafts­men and de­sign­ers, and will also show­case doc­u­men­taries and the jour­ney.

“When cu­rat­ing SDW each year, we choose themes that tap into de­sign­ers’ creativ­ity and push them to ex­plore sub­jects that are cur­rent. At the same time, these themes are broad enough not to limit their creativ­ity. Good de­sign solves prob­lems and cre­ates col­lab­o­ra­tive at­mos­pheres. De­sign def­i­nitely brings peo­ple to­gether – be­cause one de­signer’s idea can help in­spire an­other or might even be able to solve a prob­lem in a dif­fer­ent con­text. In­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors to SDW are al­ways sur­prised by how much in­ter­est there is in de­sign from lo­cal vis­i­tors. They are also some­times sur­prised by the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of our de­sign­ers,” he con­tin­ues.

This year, the duo an­tic­i­pates 25,000 unique vis­its inin Riyadh through­out the week, and over 29,000 vis­i­tors in the other four cities of Jed­dah, Dhahran, Tabuk and Hail.

Those who can’t see the ex­hi­bi­tions by Saudi crafts­men in per­son have an ex­cel­lent op­tion: vir­tual re­al­ity. Work­ing along­side Saudi Tourism and gi­ant tech com­pany Google, SDW will cap­ture these pro­cesses in the var­i­ous re­gions as the events travel.

This com­mit­ment to tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion is an in­te­gral part of the pro­gram­ming. This has led to an in­cred­i­ble re­sponse from com­pa­nies that pair the world’s bold­est and most in­no­va­tive cre­ative think­ing with tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment.

“SDW prides it­self in be­ing a plat­form where up-and-com­ing de­sign­ers ac­quire knowl­edge. We know that the in­ter­est of the likes of Google, Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects and Ga­torade is to har­ness the po­ten­tial of young de­sign­ers. For ex­am­ple, Zaha Ha­did Ar­chi­tects took its time in lis­ten­ing to more than 50 stu­dents at SDW 2017 and gave them valu­able feed­back on their port­fo­lios. We be­lieve that huge com­pa­nies re­alise the im­por­tance of scout­ing lo­cal tal­ent and har­ness­ing these tal­ents as much as SDW does,” Basma ex­plains.

“Tech­nol­ogy is the fu­ture,” he con­tin­ues. “We pre­dict that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence [AI] will play a huge role, 100 years from now. Even when it comes to prod­uct de­sign, we be­lieve that AI will be able to tell us which ma­te­rial is best to use for a cer­tain prod­uct, and how to cre­ate that prod­uct, thus sav­ing time.”

Af­ter five years of ex­cep­tional pro­gram­ming and events, plus gen­er­ous sup­port and a warm global re­sponse, the pair’s process of cu­rat­ing SDW has evolved.

“One of the big­gest changes we’ve seen is that de­sign­ers have be­come more ac­cept­ing of chal­lenges, whether these chal­lenges are the cir­cum­stances that make it dif­fi­cult for them to achieve their de­signs (such as the un­avail­abil­ity of cer­tain ma­te­ri­als or ma­chines that would help cre­ate their de­signs) or chal­lenges as sim­ple as the theme that we’ve come up with for that year. An­other change: de­sign­ers have be­come more col­lab­o­ra­tive with each other, creat­ing a greater de­sign com­mu­nity and bet­ter de­signs.

A very im­por­tant change has also come in the form of government sup­port for cre­ative com­mu­ni­ties,” says Basma.

This sup­port is one of three main fac­tors – the other two be­ing young, ea­ger de­sign­ers and de­sign ed­u­ca­tion – that are trans­form­ing Saudi Ara­bia into a blos­som­ing de­sign cap­i­tal.

“We be­lieve that be­cause SDW acts as an ed­u­ca­tional plat­form and helps de­sign­ers launch their ca­reers by giv­ing them sup­port through plac­ing them in in­tern­ships with in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers and ex­hibit­ing their work­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally (we have pre­vi­ously ex­hib­ited SDW de­sign­ers’ work at Salone del Mo­bile, Lon­don De­sign Week, Dubai De­sign Week, etc…), it def­i­nitely does con­trib­ute to the over­all eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural pros­per­ity of Saudi Ara­bia,” he ex­plains.

His ad­vice for first-time vis­i­tors: “Take the time to talk to the de­sign­ers, to get to know the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind their de­signs and the dif­fi­cul­ties they went through to achieve those de­signs. It’s very in­spir­ing to hear from up-and-com­ing de­sign­ers and to know what they’d like to achieve through­out their ca­reers.”

But just be­cause their eyes are on the fu­ture doesn’t mean they don’t have a thought­ful eye di­rected to­wards the past. “For in­spi­ra­tion in Saudi Ara­bia we ven­ture out to lo­cal mar­kets to talk to lo­cal crafts­men, and to vil­lages where tra­di­tional skills are still be­ing used,” says Basma. And there’s no doubt this will pro­pel them to­wards an even greater to­mor­row, for both Saudi Ara­bia and the world.

Saudi De­sign Week will run from Oc­to­ber 4-7, 2018 in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia

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