More and more‭, ‬communities are looking at what’s less and less‭. ‬As a region‭, ‬consumers in the Middle East are becoming increasingly socially aware‭. ‬They respond to and form an‭ ‬affinity with responsible brands‭. ‬We see companies and enterprises pivoting‭, ‬recognizing their role in creating a sustainable future‭, ‬becoming social champions‭, ‬and looking at the bigger picture‭.‬

In Saudi Arabia‭, ‬sustainability is deemed one of the objectives thoughtfully considered in all projects related to the 2030‭ ‬vision‭. ‬The UAE has sustainable development listed as one of its key goals for 2021‭. ‬For both these nations‭, ‬there is recognition that a creative economy will play a vital role in either’s success‭.

Grassroot creatives are not excluded from this set‭, ‬and in recent years‭, ‬with economic‭, ‬social‭, ‬and environmental issues coming‭ ‬to light—the question‭, ‬“What can designers do‭?‬”‭ ‬particularly in the region has arise‭. ‬We spoke to Shepherd Studio‭, ‬a young design firm in Bahrain‭, ‬and according to them‭, ‬tackling Sustainability in Design is not just a topic of consideration but a necessary element that should guide creative producers‭:‬

“Given the Middle East’s positive added value to its urban fabric through new developments and innovations‭, ‬positive and negative impacts result from the creation of such infrastructure‭. ‬From project ideation to completion‭, ‬there is a need to consider the impacts that would sprout out and affect our social‭, ‬cultural‭, ‬and environmental paradigms‭. ‬As our studio is keen on adding value through design‭, ‬we believe that sustainability acts as a spine that would complement our design process‭, ‬and thus helping us actualize the possibilities of design through logical‭, ‬analytical‭, ‬and rational inquiry‭.‬”

“Therefore‭, ‬we believe that sustainability should be addressed in the project ideation stage‭, ‬from the design of a water bottle to a mixed-use development on a waterfront‭. ‬Material guidelines‭, ‬environmental simulations‭, ‬and surveys would help designers have‭ ‬a better-studied design‭. ‬As such‭, ‬this makes a design a response‭, ‬rather than an idea‭.‬”

Creating lasting impact when it comes to sustainability in design requires opening up channels for dialogue between different practitioners‭. ‬However‭, ‬at times‭, ‬this maybe easier said than done‭, ‬without a platform to connect‭. ‬As Shepherd Studio shared with‭ ‬us‭, ‬a common struggle for designers in the Middle East is project initiation and communication‭:‬

“As a relatively young studio situated in the Kingdom of Bahrain‭, ‬we see a trend in a well-informed generation of designers who have the capability to propose fairly innovative design solutions‭, ‬however much have been discredited as a result of insufficient‭ ‬communication channels‭. ‬Collaborative exchange is also another concern that is a consequence of the communication‭. ‬There is a need to celebrate our cultural ethos‭, ‬and remember that our nomadic nature had grown through collaboration‭.‬”

“This can be resolved through design forecasting and embracing collaboration‭; ‬the design community is in need of cultural dialogue and exchange‭, ‬and to also widen their respected design discipline to other professions‭.‬”

One such hub for creative exchange‭, ‬collaborations‭, ‬and conversations is Saudi Design Week‭, ‬the first and premier design festival in Saudi Arabia‭. ‬In its fifth edition‭, ‬SDW will delve into the notion of Sustainability in Design‭. ‬This year’s theme will be explored through the Design Forum‭, ‬an exhibition‭, ‬workshops‭, ‬and design  installations like that of Shepherd Studio’s‭, ‬entitled‭, <‬mat‭.‬

“Our proposed design is an interpretation of the Islamic prayer mat‭. ‬The project aims to demonstrate our design development in adding value to the current design through our transdisciplinary design process‭, ‬reducing the excess material of the existing prayer mat model and leaving only the points of contact between the mat and the user‭. ‬As such‭, ‬this guides the user to the correct positioning of prayer‭, ‬and to ponder on the notion of consumption and sustainability as a social/environmental responsibility‭.‬”

With sustainability part of the global agenda‭, ‬it’s imperative for the region not to get lost in translation‭. ‬Hence‭, ‬Saudi Design Week 2018‭ ‬is hosting the conversation‭, ‬so visionaries‭, ‬enterprises‭, ‬creative professionals can show why great design needs to be‭ ‬“good”‭ ‬design‭.‬

Words‭ ‬by Saudi Design Week

Images‭ ‬by Muzna Qamar & Abdulmajeed AlRodan

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