Beirut Design Week 2015, DESIGN RESEARCH, EVENT, MENA PROJECTS

Design Weeks are flourishing in the Middle East & North Africa

When the MENA Design Research Center was launched in 2011, the goal of its founders was to create social impact the MENA region and develop awareness about the role and value of Design. Now four years later, we begin to be able to quantify the growth and impact that the center has partially set in track. One of the most well-known activities of MENA DRC is the Beirut Design Week, which was the first design week to be established in the region in 2012. Now, fast-forward four years later, there are already four design weeks that are right on track, and another two just on the doorstep.mena-design-weekEach Design Week is unique in its goals, features, participants and events. For Beirut Design Week, which is founded and organized by the MENA Design Research Center – a non-profit organization, the goal is to develop local entrepreneurship, provide cultural exchange for skills and experiences, enhance design education, and create awareness about design for social impact. The neighboring design weeks have some similar aspects but to varying proportions.

Soon to follow Beirut Design Week a year later in 2013 was the Bahrain International Design Week which took place in one venue, the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre. The goals of the event are commercial, promising market share and exposure for all exhibitors.

In 2014 followed Saudi Design Week organized by Oasis Magazine in Partnership with the King Faisal Foundation for Research and Islamic Studies. Closer to the BDW model, the program is divided into curated exhibitions, workshops, and a design forum, showing a more versatile approach that is both commercial and educational.

chronology-mena-design-weekThis month marked the beginning of Dubai Design Week, which took place in various locations and focused mostly around Dubai’s latest large scale real estate project, the Dubai Design District – which is set to be finalized in the next couple of years. DDW is owned and managed by the Art Dubai Group, a joint venture company between the Dubai International Financial Centre and Middle East Fairs Ltd. Bringing in high-end talent as well as established educational institutions from all corners of the world, the Emiratis prove again that high investment pays off.

Next month we will witness the launch of Cairo Design Week, who are already developing a partnership with Beirut Design Week and their near future seems promising. Moreover, talks with Amman Design Week have also been initiated, the event is set to take place in 2016. Can you guess who will be next? I have a pretty good idea…

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Beirut Design Week 2015, Entrepreneurship, EVENT, Market

Beirut Design Week Meets Live Love Beirut at Mzaar

Every year Lebanon celebrates the feast of the Virgin Mary in mid August. The national festivities usually take place in the mountains and are a call to all the residents and tourists to leave the coast and enjoy a day of cool breezes, sunshine, local markets, entertainment and -of course- food. For the first time Beirut Design Week took a small group of its young and talented designers and migrated for one week outside of the Capital to take part in this event in Mzaar in partnership with Live Love Beirut. As a means to promote young talent and help designers sell their products and services the Designer Market was designed and developed by MENA DRC. Exhibitors included the lovely Vanina designers, Creative Space Beirut, Ghassan Salameh, Second Street, Patil Tchilinguirian, Kaheled el Mays, Waste, Oddfish, Celine Khailarallah, We Shape Hearts and Margherita. Apart from a fantastic week where all the designers got to know each other better and discuss their careers, challenges and sales methods; many of them made good profit and a few new long-term clients. As a first trial of BDW to be part of another event, it was a relative success with many lessons learnt for the coming years

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Beirut Design Week 2015, EVENT, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Disrupt! Design! Crowdfunding Campaign Launches at BDW2015

Disrupt

No one acted surprised when the lights went dark in Beirut Souks on a Monday night early in June—power cuts are regular enough. But that blasé reaction turned to curiosity when the sounds of the rainforest, not generators, followed, and that curiosity turned to excitement as fog poured in and video footage of a waterfall shined through the mist onto a bare souk wall.

“It’s the rainforest!” one young shopper enthused as crowds gathered with smiles on their faces and cellphones in hand to record the unfolding display.

The dramatic public intervention jumpstarted Beirut Design Week, and showed in a very public way how design can make a social impact in the region. As far as campaigns for change go, that was just the beginning. Only a few hundred meters from the pop-up rainforest, teams of Lebanese designers were busy pitching their own social initiatives.

Tackling a broad swath of social issues, the groups of designers participating in the Disrupt! Design! initiative were appealing directly to Beirut Design Week attendees for the funding they needed to get their projects off the ground. Through the Disrupt! Design! initiative the teams had already been equipped with training from the MENA Design Research Center and the crowdfunding initiative Zoomaal.

The diversity of their projects showcases just how many different paths social intervention can take:

Ensa Project With a 2D-animated series, the Ensa Project is looking to empower young Lebanese to address persistent social issues. One key to the project is the online platform where users can interact, share their own stories, and submit ideas for future episodes.

Beirut RiverLess Having already gained UNHabitat and municipal backing for its ambitious strategy to revive and restore the Beirut River watershed, Beirut RiverLess is looking to change the public’s relationship with a once-vital waterway.

Inara Initiative The Inara Initiative designed and launched pitched BDW2015 attendees on its specially engineered lids—one a lamp, and the other a water filter—for the household jars commonly used in underprivileged communities. While the team was appealing for public crowdfunding, its designers were keen to point out that anyone can fund the project by simply buying an upmarket version of the lids, which subsidize the donation models.

Look Me in the Leg The final crowdfunding project to launch at BDW2015 was a team touting its plan for customized prosthetics that provided enhanced functions such as Bluetooth speakers or cellphone chargers. The team hopes it can alter the perception of both prosthetics and disabilities among the public as well as its users.

Showcased alongside the Based in Beirut exhibition in Beirut Souks, the Disrupt! Design! projects were nested near the heart of Beirut Design Week, and the Ensa Project’s first promotional installment played on the silver screen during the BDW2015 international conference, but all the designers had the chance to meet potential funders: from interested individuals to aid organizations.

As the crowdfunding campaigns continue and the design teams push harder to make their interventions, one thing is clear: they can’t do it without a little help from the public pulling them along.

This project has been developed in partnership with Hivos and Mideast Creatives.

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Beirut Design Week 2015, DESIGN RESEARCH, HOW WE WORK, MENA PROJECTS, RESEARCH METHOD, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Social & Environmental projects win Disrupt!/ Design!/ Funding

_DSF5001 Three minutes may be longer than an elevator pitch, but it isn’t much time to explain the innovation, impact and feasibility of a social design project that’s been months in the making. But that was the challenge design teams faced at the Disrupt!/ Design!/ ideathon this weekend as they sought to convince a panel of experts their projects deserve a $1,000 grant, an advertising budget and mentorship from the MENA Design Research Center. The teams that won funding Sunday proposed projects to tackle a host of environmental and social problem in Lebanon.

_DSF4760Khalik Mitl Sami is a platform for fostering open dialogue on race in Lebanon. Starting with a pop-up stand highlighting the food and cultural of Sudan, the team hopes it can facilitate interactions between groups who wouldn’t normally engage each other. The genesis of the project and its name are rooted in team member Asil Sidahmed’s own experience in which a Beirut service driver upbraided a passenger for racial insensitivity.

“When we look at the Beirut River, what we see is two walls and a sewer,” said Adib Dada, whose team has a master plan for rehabilitating the Beirut River. By creating two parks on either side of the river and building a footbridge connecting Badawi and Bourj Hammoud, the team hopes it can tap into memories of a time when the natural river was a bigger part of daily life. “If we can bring back that emotional relationship, they will fight for it to be cleaner, to be rehabilitated,” Dada said.

Setting out to demystify the Bomb shelter, this team is turning the bomb shelter into an interactive space as it compiles a fresh oral history of the civil war. Tamara Qiblawi said the team hopes the stories of human survival it gathers will fill in the blanks left by war stories that all too often end with “ba3dein zilna 3lmelja.”

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With its plan to make a gray city greener one square meter at a time, the Square Meter team plans to distribute hydroponic kits to bring much-needed plant life to rooftops and unused lots throughout Beirut.

Most important for the organizers behind the Disrupt!/ Design!/ campaign is long-term follow-up, which gives them hope the projects will be self-sustaining. “Great ideas happen all the time, but sometimes they go nowhere,” MENA RDC Director Doreen Toutikian said. Mideast Creatives Project Manager Arthur Steiner said the Disrupt!/ model, which has already succeeded in Cairo and Amman, is proof that fields like design, typography, video gaming and music can be engines of social change and economic development. Although designers had in the past been relegated to the role of facilitators for the stories and ideas of others, ideathon lecturer Richard van der Laken said designers are now claiming new agency to pursue their own projects.

“We have, suddenly, a very different role,” van der Laken said._DSF4954

The ideathon teams not selected for the funding campaign are not walking away from the workshop empty-handed, as all the teams have the option of joining a crowdfunding campaign to take their ideas directly to funders through Zoomaal. The campaign will launch June 1 at the opening of Beirut Design Week, where funders will be able to view the projects and meet the designers.

Over three days at Dawawine, the Design!/ Disrupt!/ ideathon teams also worked with a slate of international mentors specializing in fields as diverse as design interaction, monetization and crowdfunding. The teams have spent months, and in at least one case years, developing their ideas, and feedback from other teams and the mentors helped them hone these ideas.

Paul Hughes kicked off day No. 1 of the ideathon with a lecture on design thinking, and Stephanie Hughes coached the teams through the value proposition. On day No. 2 Richard van der Laken shared his experiences about brand identity and positioning, while Lilian Abou Zeki walked the teams through nontraditional business models to sustain their projects.

On day No. 3 the designers worked with Zoomaal’s Aisha Habli to up their crowdfunding IQ, and they learned from Paul Hughes how to nail the pitch. Ideathon participant Ghinwa Chlouk admitted the workshop’s schedule was grinding, but “throughout this whole process we’re having a lot of fun,” she said.

The ideathon closed with the teams pitching their projects to a five-person jury consisting of:

  •  Hani Asfour (architect and creative strategist, president of the Beirut Creative Cluster)
  • Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes (lead architect at AKKA)
  • Ricardo Karam (talk show host and philanthropist with TAKREEM Arab Achievement Awards)
  • Jimmy Ghazal (innovation director and Saatchi & Saatchi)
  • Carmen Geha (professor specializing in political reform and civil society at the American University of Beirut)

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Deliberations stretched from an allotted 10 minutes to half an hour as the jury struggled to agree on which three teams that would receive funding. In the end, the jury wasn’t forced to make its shortlist any shorter—a last-minute donation of $1,000 by Ricardo Karam on top of the $3,000 pledged by Hivos broke the deadlock and allowed the panel to select a fourth winning team.

More than 90 designers submitted proposals for the Disrupt!/ Design!/ ideathon, and although only 10 teams were selected for the workshop and four received direct funding, organizers found the strength of the ideas encouraging.

“At a certain point, we hope they all fly,” Steiner said._DSF5334

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Beirut Design Week 2015, Design Criticism, DESIGN RESEARCH, EVENT, MENA PROJECTS, SOCIAL INNOVATION

Design is here to Disrupt!

disrupt6 Promoting big ideas to disrupt the status quo, the Disrupt!/Design!/ campaign kicked off Friday with its first training session for ten Lebanese design teams looking to take their projects from the drawing board to the board room and beyond in search of funding.

The teams—which include veterans as well as plucky newcomers in fields as diverse as architecture, engineering and traditional handicraft—are all vying to be among the three teams selected for a crowdfunding campaign that will launch in June during Beirut Design Week.

A collaboration between Beirut Design Week and the Dutch development organization Hivos, in partnership with Mideast Creatives and the crowdfunding organization Zoomaal, Disrupt!/Design!/ will provide the teams mentorship from a panel of international experts. These mentors will push the teams to refine their proposals while addressing the specific needs each faces.

As they hone their pitches, the teams will also benefit from crowdfunding training by Zoomaal, which will include storyboarding, writing, video production and presentation.disrupt1

The teams are:

Ray Chawki Ghafary and Charbel Afif

Recognizing that traditional below-the-knee prosthetics have left many amputees ashamed, the team aims to make a prosthetic that users could wear proudly. With more attractive covers and an emphasis on aesthetics, the team wants to battle the stigma many amputees face. “We’re not reinventing the prosthetic,” Ghafary said, “we’re enhancing its usage.”

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Adib Dada, Yasmina Choueir, May Khalifeh, Raya Tueny, and Alia Fattouh

Though its project is still in the development phase, this team has a series of major interventions planned around the Beirut River. Among them, the team hopes to crowd-fund a project to build a footbridge linking Badawi and Bourj Hammoud, and to build parks on either side of the river.

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Dima Boulad, Pamela Haydamouth, and Celine Khairallah

Looking for a way to convert unused corners of urban sprawl into gardens and green space, the team hopes to partner with the municipality to identify city-owned plots that are currently lying fallow. Boulad said the key to success would be fostering a sense of stewardship among neighbors and allaying any mistrust within the community. “If you give people trust, they give it back,” Boulad said.

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Tamara Qiblawi and Mireille Raad

The KnoozRoom team hopes oral history and creative storytelling can prompt recognition of new memories of the Lebanese civil war. The team plans to screen its 27-minute documentary film in a Spears Street bomb shelter-turned-interactive space in order collect untold stories that upset existing narratives of the war. “The aim of the project is to solicit stories of human survival,” Qiblawi said.

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Fadi Mansour, Karl Hitti and Candice Naim

Inspired by regional refugee crises and frequent power outages, this team is producing portable solar lamps. While tapping into a disappearing heritage of glassblowing within Lebanon, the team hopes to serve underprivileged communities with a safe and sustainable solution to the basic need for light.

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Angelique Sabounjian, Missak Hajiavedikian and Cynthia Raffoul

Perhaps more than any other corner of Beirut, Bourj Hammoud retains a bevy of local craftsmen and ateliers. This team is seeking to build bridges between generations of Bourj Hammoud’s craftsmen and artisans by creating links among the future makers, the established craftsmen, and the suppliers. “It’s creating this full circle in the production cycle,” Sabounjian said.

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Hassan Kanj and Rawad Hajj

Between coders and designers, there isn’t much common ground, which is why this team believes if coders knew the basics of design and designers knew the basics of coding, collaborations would be a breeze. “If they can understand, they can appreciate,” said Hassan Kanj. With a platform for collaboration between the two communities, the team hopes to make it easier for designers and coders to find each other.

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Dina Alwani, Ayman Moadad and Ali Ahmad

With its 2D animated web series drawn from the experiences of daily life in Lebanon, this team of animators hopes to entertain and educate Lebanese young and old about the issues affecting their nation. “It shows what everyone is suffering from,” said Alwani. The key to the series, Ahmad stressed, is that it will draw attention to the issues as well as the inaction that allows them to persist.

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Collette Hogg and Mazin Sidahmed

Seeking to draw a positive collaboration out of the conflict in Syria and influx of refugees within Lebanon, this team hopes to forge bonds around Syria and Lebanon’s shared history of crafting tile mosaics and glassblowing. While traditional methods of producing these tiles and glass have all but disappeared in Lebanon, the team hopes displaced Syrian craftsmen could work with artisans in Lebanon to reintroduce these time-honored techniques while fostering dialogue.

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Cyril Kallab, Iva Kovic, Rana Taha and Laeticia Honeine

Feeling that designers and makers have been left out of the supply chain that leads from craftsmen to consumers, this team hopes to work with established craftsmen to fill in the missing links. By bringing designers into the fold, the team is seeking to influence the market for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Check back for more updates as the collaboration continues!

Special Thanks to our new team member Ian Larson, for interviewing the participants and writing this post.

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