BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014

BDW14, behind the scenes…

NEW-LOGO-BDW2014Here at MENA Design Research Centre, the excitement is mounting as Beirut Design Week approaches. If you haven’t already, take a look at all the fantastic workshops, talks, exhibitions and other events we have scheduled for you from the 9th of June to the 15th.

What you don’t know is how hard the team is working to put on these events, and so here is a little insight into the preparation it takes to organize a festival on the scale of Beirut Design Week. Currently in its 3rd edition, it has grown immensely since 2012, and this means a lot more work for the team. From press releases to coordination of designers, both local and international to creating and sending hundreds of invitations, here is the story of how it is all done on time.

Since March, the whole team has been working towards creating Beirut Design Week 2014. As usual, Beirut Design Week is held across Beirut City, featuring exhibitions, conferences, workshops and open studios showcasing the work of local and international designers operating within Lebanon. All our events focus on creative economies, intercultural exchange, design education and design entrepreneurship. 

MENA Design Research Centre has been working to bring together designers from around the world and right here in Beirut to showcase their work in different areas of the city including the Beirut Souks, Saifi Village and Gemmayze. The events are designed so that participants can explore the city without missing out on any of the events.

The past few months have therefore been full of emails and calls to designers and artists worldwide to invite them to participate. Hilary Alexander. Rik Runge, Rowan Bain, Mona Hatoum and Jasper Van Grootel are only a few of the inspiring people that will be speaking during Beirut Design Week. These talks will vary from Fashion Design to Interior Design to Graphic Design as well as Design and Entrepreneurship and Contemporary Art. Be sure to come along to see any or all of these artistic innovators.

The week will not only feature well established figures of the Design community, however. The annual Newcomers Exhibition is back with young designers eager to display their work. See Karma J, Johanna Jonsson Abchée’s display of mirrors, Karen Kanaan and her brand Kera, Sanaa Ayoub’s fashion line Sana’ for today’s modern woman, Siwar Kraytem and her cycling guide to Beirut. Discover Nour Hage’s eponymous fashion line, We Shape Hearts, born out of a love/hate relationship with the city, Sacoche’ beautiful display of leather bags. Witness Moi et ma Puce exploring the bond between moms and daughters and finally, One plus One’s furniture concept.

Beirut Design Week will also feature the work of Crealev (Angela Jansen), Studio JSPR, Studio Mieke Meijer, Niels Bakkerus, Rik Runge (Philips Healthcare) and T+HUIS in collaboration with the Embassy of the Netherlands and Dutch Design Week. Explore the latest in Dutch lighting design, furniture design, interaction design, product design, and design for social impact.

Another event of the week to look forward to is the Contemporary Dutch Architecture Exhibition. Socially sustainable projects that are programmed for interaction, environmentally sustainable projects that reduce emissions by converting sun, wind and water into energy, and economically sustainable projects, where abandoned buildings and even entire districts are be­ing put to different use – all are represented in this exhibition, which gives an overview of the talent and diversity of contemporary Danish Architects.

We’d like to say a big thank you to all the members of the MENA Design Research Centre and everybody else who has contributed to making Beirut Design Week possible for all your hard work.

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BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014, DESIGN RESEARCH, DESMEEM, EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS, RESEARCH METHOD

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part III)

IMG_3973IMG_3962This is the last piece of a three part blog post concerning the collaboration between AALTO Master students of the Media Lab with the School of Business and MENA Design Research Center. In this post, we discuss the co-creation workshop that was developed over the course of 2 days in the Island of Suomenlinna in Finland. 

After weeks of research and skype meetings, the teams were set to meet their client and engage in a co-creation workshop to further design the services that MENA Design Research Center offers, as well as create new strategies for growth according to the current challenges the center faces (explained in part I).  The coordinators of the course rented out a conference room on the island of Suomenlinna, and accommodated all participants in a nearby hotel on the island for a full weekend. On saturday morning, after getting to know each other with team building exercises (which also included answering embarrassing questions publicly), each team set out to pinpoint 3 main challenges and the potential solutions that were suggested. Those were then further developed with concrete action plans and timelines.

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The system and services which were designed for MENA Design Research Center were based on the yearly cycle of the organization. One of its core projects, which defined the role of the center in the region, was DESMEEM. Therefore research into a newer version of this project is being conducted as a DESMEEM 2.0 with a variety of added features and modification based on feedback from the earlier version in 2012. Moreover, a list of Gatekeepers were deduced as main players in Business, Economy, Education, and Culture. These will be people who will be acting as ambassadors of the Center in the coming years. The entire process of this project will be documented and made public to our audience in Beirut Design Week 2014.

By sunday evening all the team members were exhausted of brainstorming and set out to the nearest cafe for a good old Finnish Kahvi and lighter conversations. The MENA Design Research Center would like to thank Nina Martin, Anna Asikainen, Joanna Saad-Sulonen, Teemu Leinonen,  Andreas Pattichis, Pirkka Aman, and Pouyan Mohseninia for all their efforts on making this project a great success.

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EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part II)

demos collageThis is Part II of a three part blog post concerning the collaboration between AALTO Master students of the Media Lab and the School of Business and MENA Design Research Center. This post is about the visit to DEMOS Helsinki, a Finnish non-profit organization that is similar to MENA Design Research Center. (Image sources: demoshelsinki.fi, merijnhos.com, tylkkari.fi, low2no.fi)

As part of their research, the AALTO students were looking for similar institutions and organizations in Helsinki, where potential synergies with MENA DRC can develop: one such non-profit organization is DEMOS Helsinki. They arranged a meeting with Satu Korhonen (Head of Product Development) and Outi Kuittinen (Head of Co-Creation) of DEMOS and Doreen Toutikian (Director MENA DRC) in order to start a personal conversation about the history and development of DEMOS as well as the challenges they have faced in the past 9 years since their establishment in 2005.

“The first five years were the most difficult” confirmed Ms. Kuittinen. The organization was founded by 2 people and now after nine years they are eight full-time employees with a large extensive network of interns and collaborators throughout Europe. Through this network and collaborations, they were able to develop and grow as one of the most prominent non profit organizations in Finland that deals a variety of issues and challenges faced by Finnish and global societies. One of their most famous projects which has now developed into a platform of its own is Peloton. Its focus is to develop innovative strategies for sustainable energy consumption within the Finnish industries and households by changing consumer behavior. Another popular project of theirs is the Koulu Festival which was a weekend long event where anybody can teach a class about anything; this was a great social project that aimed to build interest-based communities and bring people together.

Much of the openness and energy is derived from the team who seem well-grounded researchers with creative sparks that are not shielded by corporate attitudes. They are all very versatile and skilled in many disciplines such as: economy, sociology, political science, design, technology, media, geography, education, philosophy and business. When asked about not having a specific focus for the organization, it did not seem to be a concern as they prided themselves on their versatility and multidisciplinarity. They stress on being a serious research based organization but also enjoy the fun side of interacting with people in the learning process. In fact, since they do not fixate on one topic or theme, they perceive it as an endless opportunity to stay open to new ideas and concepts. When asked about their financial sustainability, they were very transparent about the state, city, and European funding they receive to pursue their projects.

The visit to DEMOS Helsinki was very insightful and comforting. Many similarities in aims and challenges were clarified. A comparison was not the aim behind the meeting, but an understanding of how contexts might differ or influence the process of developing a non-profit organization. One thing was clear as the session came to an end: there are many people who are trying to build better communities and societies in their respective fields, and it is the common ground in between these people and disciplines that can pave the way to real development and growth.

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BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2014, DESMEEM, EVENT, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS

Design Strategy in Collaboration with AALTO University (Part I)

IMG_3977MENA Design Research Center in collaboration with AALTO university in Helsinki (The Media Lab and the School of Business) has been developing with its Master students new strategies for the challenges that MENA DRC has been facing as an organization in Lebanon. The course -New Media Concepts for the Third Sector- is made up of interdisciplinary teams of researchers, designers, and entrepreneurs that have been studying MENA DRC and developing service design strategies for growth and development as a co-creative consulting opportunity for both parties. In this first part of this blog post we will be introducing some of the challenges that MENA Design Research has been facing for the past year. 

MENA DRC was officially established in 2012; the first year was quite successful marking the beginning of the DESMEEM project and Beirut Design Week. Although dozens of proposals were written to continue DESMEEM initiatives in the following year, the region’s funding priorities were directed towards more urgent matters. In 2013, the only project that came to full realization was Beirut Design Week. Although it is very important and successful, it is not enough to develop and sustain a design research center. Coming to the end of 2013, some decisions need to be made according to the following challenges:

Growth & HR: The center currently has 2 active working members (Doreen Toutikian & Maya Karanouh). While Maya helps in providing contacts for business development through Lebanese SME’s, banks and organizations alongside managing her company TAGbrands, Doreen builds relationships with international organizations, embassies, and universities as well as handles the daily tasks. During projects, the center hires coordinators for the length of the project. Volunteers are welcome but rare. TAGbrands as an incubator provides office space and services to the center. These services include graphic design, social media, legal services, accounting and PR. We believe that having more full-time employees would be very beneficial to the center, but as it is not financially feasible, should we employ volunteers? How can we grow in our human resources while keeping the integrity and commitment of people that contribute? What kind of benefits can we provide instead for their dedication to developing the center?

Direction & Focus: As far as we know, there are no similar Design related NGOs or non-profit organizations in the region. Therefore, our responsibilities are quite broad. We have still not decided on a certain direction or focus and we are not sure if this is necessary yet. We are involved in all the following activities and initiatives: festivals, workshops, training, user-centered research, publications, conferences, social development, urban planning, urban mobility, community integration, youth& education…etc.  At some point, the center must diverge all its energy towards a pivotal point. Do we just focus on Beirut Design Week, and develop similar events throughout the year (conferences, workshops, talks, exhibitions…etc.)?  Do we focus more on social work? Do we do our own research and publications that concern design in the Arab world?

Community Building & Communication: We have a large network of followers on social media, but they all seem like one group (those who are design/ tech savvy). How do we involve other communities that are not necessarily the hip people of Beirut? How can we reach them? How can we make them interested in what we do and perhaps help them benefit from us? How do we communicate who we are to those who don’t speak our language? How can we make them see that Design is more than just luxury and fashion?

Financial Stability: Since the center is incubated by TAGbrands, we do not have to pay for rent or maintenance. When we realized that funding is scarce for Design in the MENA region, we created Beirut Design Week as a service to Lebanese designers that acts as an annual crowdfunding platform. Embassies and international organizations also help us to bring in professionals from all over the world during the week. This is the main source of income for the center. It is enough to keep it running, but not enough to initiate other projects. Are there other services we can provide that we haven’t thought of? What else can MENA DRC offer?

Space: Unlike many cultural organizations, we do not have a large space to host events, workshops, exhibitions… etc; which could be a way to sustain the center financially. Should we be looking at finding a space for ourselves? Are there possibilities for partnerships with the private or public sector where our presence in a certain space could be mutually beneficial?

Beyond Lebanon: Eventually, we would like to be a regional institution with unified goals and a mission to develop the understanding and awareness of Design in the Middle East and North Africa. We are still very young, and we need to prove ourselves and grow much more to be able to take on such a responsibility. What would be the best strategy to expand within our neighboring countries?

In the next blog post we will be discussing the workshop that took place in Finland as a co-creation session between Doreen Toutikian (Director of MENA DRC) and the AALTO students; where the students took on those challenges and turned them into opportunities for the center.

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DESIGN RESEARCH, EVENT, RESEARCH METHOD, SOCIAL INNOVATION

A workshop on Design Education in Lebanon

On friday January 3rd, a group of people were called to a brainstorming session to discuss design education in Lebanon.  With the support of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, MENA Design Research Center, and Beirut Art Center, Master student Vrouyr Joubanian (ex-project coordinator of DESMEEM and MENA DRC) is now embarking on a new venture in researching the topic within the Master of Design for Social Impact of the University of Arts. The participants were selected according to three group categories: educators, students and professionals. The list includes: Diala Lteif, Doreen Toutikian, Marc Baroud, Rana Haddad, Pierre Hage-Boutros, Simon Mhanna, Hala Hassan, Danny Arakji, Micheline Nahra, Cyril Kallab, Elias Salamoun, Salim Batlouni, Ronald Abdala, Joumana Matar, Pascal Hachem, Mohamed Yassine, Karim Chaaya, and Rani Rajji.

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The workshop was conducted through a series of activities that encouraged the discussion of various issues regarding the current state of education, the major challenges that are faced, insights to opportunities, and potential solutions that can be developed. As design research methods, these co-creative activities serve as tools to ease the communication among participants and share ideas within an open-minded and encouraging atmosphere. Much of the themes revolved around universities, institutions, politics, culture and history. As stakeholders and design enthusiasts that yearn for change, insights were collected from various perspectives, and honest confrontations were made possible between the educators, the students and the professionals. Although more specific details will be provided by Vrouyr Joubanian in the course of further research and analysis. It was clear that much of the problem stems from the politics of institutions that act as handicaps to Lebanon in most social and professional realms. Words such as stagnation, lock-in systems, backwardness, corruption and lack of collaboration were common highlights that encompass the frustration of educators.

IMG_1903By the end of the workshop, 5 teams developed possible solutions to the challenges faced. Then a vote was cast to determine which were more feasible and promising. In the coming weeks, a more concrete strategy will be formulated and a collective of people is set to develop outside the institutions to provide a more solid and hopeful future for design education in Lebanon.

IMG_1604To read Vrouyr’s post on the subject with more detail, please follow this link: http://vrouyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/about-design-education-in-lebanon/

Photo credits: Rizkallah Chaaraoui

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BEIRUT DESIGN WEEK 2013, EVENT

The Social Economic Awards

stage social economic awards beirut design weekTAGbrands, a regional branding and design agency, won the SEA (Social Economic Award) for incubating the NGO – MENA Design Research Center which organizes the Beirut Design Week each year. TAGbrands earned the award for the category of “Small and Medium Enterprises – SME’s by targeting the development of design innovation and creative entrepreneurship. Beirut Design Week is co-founded and co-organized by Maya Karanouh and Doreen Toutikian who received the award.

On Saturday the 22nd of November 2013, George Kurdahi the Lebanese television presenter, announced the award at the Casino du Liban on the occasion of the 3rd Social Economic Award organized by First Protocol, presenting the SME Award to the two MENA Design Research Center co-founders and Beirut Design Week organizers. The honorary jury members this year included Mrs. Layla el Soloh Hamade, Mr. Raymond Audi, Mr. Fadi Abboud, Mr. Mohamed Choucair, Mr. Vreij Sabounjian, Mr. Yaseen Jaber, Mr. Walid Daouk, Mrs Raya al Hassan, Mr. Salim Sayegh, VIce Governor Dr. Saad Andary, Mr. Salim Jreissati and Mr. Nazem al Khoury.

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It was an honor for us to be part of this ceremony and to be acknowledged for the efforts put into Beirut Design Week as a platform that enables young designer entrepreneurs to develop their network and skills and also brings together the established Lebanese creative design eco-system under one platform. As a social venture with an entrepreneurial spirit, Beirut Design Week (which is organized by MENA DRC, which is incubated by TAGbrands) is a CSR program that focuses the expertise, time, and resources of this enterprise towards one goal. Unlike most SME’s  or large companies who may sometimes support an external social cause, TAGbrands becomes fully involved in the Beirut Design Week CSR program by offering its team of designers as well as legal, administrative, and peripheral services to help the MENA Design Research Center in organizing the event.

We would like to thank First Protocol for their dedication in commemorating initiatives that are important to the development of Lebanon from a social and economic perspective, as well as encouraging the private sector to give back to the community. We would also like to thank every single person that helped make the Beirut Design Week dream come true, including the TAGBrands team, the Lebanese Designers, our partners and sponsors, without whom none of this would have been possible. And finally, we promise to keep on going and deliver better results every year to ensure that this small grassroots initiative becomes a symbol of global success for Lebanon.

The 3rd Social Economic Award will be broadcasted on MTV, Saturday the 30th of November 2013 at 20h45.

award Social economic awards maya karanouh doreen toutikian

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Design Criticism

Changing perspectives on Design

Design critics have been debating about the meaning and role of Design since its inception to education and popular culture. It seems that with every generation of theorists, writers, critics and educators, a new wave of concerns and doubts arise with an extra dosage of sensitivity to social, economical, political, and environmental challenges. The 1970’s marked the first series of design manifestos, acting as a guide for designers to work with a clear conscience and not submit to corporate or political dangers. Over the years, the consequences of such propaganda led to the birth of new disciplines such as critical design, design for social impact, design activism, social design, and humanitarian design amongst a variety of equally ambiguous terminology where the difference between them and the actual impact it brought to the world became increasingly more obscure.

Soon enough, the seemingly heroic actions of many designers failed and new critics were eager to point fingers and blame the American and European Designers for thinking they can save the poor third world countries (one laptop per child, project H’s Hippo Roller …etc.). Although their intentions were good, there was still a lot to learn. Nowadays, the era of Design-Saving-the-World has come full circle and is being embraced with new principles, that are not as blinded by Designers’ need to desperately prove their capabilities beyond the realm of aesthetics. One particular set of guidelines is from Prof. Anthony Dunne, who is currently head of the Design Interactions program at the Royal College of Art in London. He makes a very poignant comparison between Old and New Design as follows:
Anthony Dunne

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