The rise of Emirati designers: fast fad or not?

In the last few years more and more Emiratis have started to carry the professional title ‘designer’. While artists have always been rather prevalent in our culture, to associate with the designer label is a new occurrence.

Some may argue with me over the difference between artist and designer, but I have always believed that there is a distinction if not in the artistic outcome, in the approach and the process that individuals take to translate their ideas and inspirations into form.

The question is why is this sudden awakening in the design industry happening now, and particularly in industrial, product and furniture design? Is it because fairs like Design Days Dubai and Downtown Design along with initiatives like Dubai Design District, Dubai Design and Fashion Council that have been recently established have inspired dormant creatives to suddenly turn to design?

It’s true that we have lived with, witnessed and granted the seal of approval for some upcoming Emirati Fashion brands like Madiyah Al Sharqi, Qasimi and Bint Thani, but what about product and furniture Emirati designers and brands?

Speaking for myself and my brand Khalid Shafar, I have been practicing the profession for four years with a certified design education and background that I built for myself, all based on a long term plan and vision that a design career is my eternal destiny.

Yet in the last two years alone, I have witnessed the rise of many Emirati names within the same industry, and to such an extent that I feel it has become a trend for each to venture into industrial and furniture design even if they come from totally different backgrounds and professions.

This trend continues to grow, allowing design to be taken as a trade commodity –and one that allows some to carry a false sense of prestige and class. And this is what concerns me most. Trends may fade with time, but this is not acceptable in an industry that continues to work toward sustainability for a growing city like Dubai.

On the other hand, and to be fair, some Emiratis have taken serious steps toward restructuring themselves as proper design studios and centering their focus on niche sectors like product design, such as my friend and designer Aljoud Lootah, founder of Aljoud Lootah Design Studio. It’s only with such examples that I can envision sustainability being incorporated into the design business of such a designer.

I should note that I have always believed in design education as a proper foundation for any startup. Design education varies from design courses (theoretical and professional), programs, workshops and internships. It helps define the journey for the individual and instill some basic knowledge about the industry before the individual endeavours on such a direction in life.

Becoming a designer is not something you can switch to over night or a title you can claim after venturing at one or two projects. It’s not fair for the real, full-time designers who have spent time and effort in acquiring knowledge and experience to reach where they are now. So, for designers – Emirati or not – the game rules are the same: You learn, practice, plan and then get to the field.