Dubai is rife with opportunity, but it must nurture its talent

The only surprising thing about Dubai’s bid to celebrate its local creative talent is that it has taken so long to do so. Plans fostered by the International Design Initiative (see News Analysis, page 9) come some ten years since design – branding in part

The only surprising thing about Dubai’s bid to celebrate its local creative talent is that it has taken so long to do so. Plans fostered by the International Design Initiative come some ten years since design – branding in particular – became a symbol of the radical change the 30-year-old Arab kingdom is undergoing.

You’d think that in a place where everything is planned to be bigger, cleverer and more rapidly put together than Western nations are used to – witness the delays to London’s Wembley Stadium – things would have moved faster. Creative groups exist side by side in the Media Zone and projects such as the massive Burj Al Arab hotel, the Burj Dubai ‘mini city’ and various resort complexes mean design opportunities have been rife.

All of the global players are in there – Landor, Fitch and Enterprise IG, for example – and British designer Gregg Sedgwick, founder of the five-year-old eponymous independent group, has operated there for more than ten years.

But wherever you turn, there are expats of one sort or another. Sedgwick’s partner Steven Mitchell is also British, as are many other designers out there. Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Europeans mix freely, usually 30-something and enjoying career opportunities that they might not find elsewhere.

The IDI seeks, in a seemingly commercial way, to draw attention to local effort through events. This is great, but if Dubai is to sustain its pre-eminence for design in the United Arab Emirates, it must start to look locally to build a stable creative community. Yet all the people I spoke to there say design education is sadly lacking.

The IDI Design Advisory Board is peopled with international stars – obvious crowd-pullers. But to make real headway, it needs to bring outstanding educationalists into the fold – say, Royal College of Art rector Sir Christopher Frayling or Jeremy Myerson, director of InnovationRCA. Better education is surely the best way forward.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week

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