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