7 things I learned at Saudi Design Week

7 things I learned at Saudi Design Week
Published: 10 November 2019 - 4:51 a.m.

Saudi Design Week 2019 was the biggest in the kingdom’s history and reflected the huge social and economic changes under way.

Now in its sixth year, the design fair was established as a platform to create change in society and raise the profile of local architects, designers, creatives and artists.

It was also my first time at the fair.

I lived in Saudi Arabia as a child and since moving to the UAE I’ve been lucky to visit the kingdom several times since 2018 — and every time I do I am astounded by the pace of change. From receiving an e-visa in 10 minutes to racing through airport security and high-fiving the opposite sex in public, the speed of Saudi Arabia’s social transformation is truly remarkable. Design and creative confidence — particularly among millennials and Generation Z — is one by-product of this.

So here are seven things I learned from my visit to SDW 19.

1. A platform for change
The Oxford University-educated co-founder and director of SDW, Basma Bouzo, told me that she established the design fair almost seven years ago to create a platform for societal change in the kingdom. Fast-forward to 2019 and Bouzo believes design is now taken more seriously by society. The platform she created to support creative entrepreneurship has clearly contributed to this.

2. Confidence is sky-high
Young creatives spoke about the “internal power” of Saudi Arabia’s design market and many of them are full of confidence in their ability to compete not just nationally and regionally, but at global design fairs. Confidence is growing because the government is creating more chances and opportunities. While the design market is playing catch-up to others in the region, young creatives are working faster that their geographic competitors to reach an international level of design.

3. Growing government support
Everyone I spoke to at SDW was full of praise for the government – and with good reason. The industry receives significant support from the public and private sector. Bodies like the Ministry of Culture, Mohammed bin Salman MiSK Foundation and Saudi Art Council are powering the creative economy, pushing youth culture, creating jobs and opportunities. The change in the last three years has been phenomenal.

4. Big business is watching
German car giant Mercedes and Sweden’s Ikea had a big presence at Saudi Design Week and the former was one of the main sponsors. The question is why. The answer: both companies clearly believe there is money to be made by supporting the kingdom’s creative community.

5. Bold colours
From neon pink and yellow to muted palm green, florescent lighting, candy floss, tinsel, brightly-coloured yarn and monochromatic mood rooms, Saudi’s designers aren’t afraid to use bold colours and graphics to capture our attention.

6. Experimental branding.
It was exciting to see an overlapping of fashion, jewellery, art and design across the fair’s exhibitors. It suggests the breadth and depth of the industry. Firms harnessing these creative synergies can put out themselves on a solid footing for the future.

7. Edible water is ‘a thing
Bahrain-based creative consultancy Quby experimented with technologies to create small cylindrical discs of edible water. They have a jelly-like consistency and crumble rather than ‘pop’ when eaten. The company says its ‘passion project’ showcases alternatives to single-use plastic bottles.

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