BETTER BY DESIGN

Dubai 2016 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohammad Saeed Al-Shahi, COO of Dubai Design District (d3), on encouraging collaboration between designers, sustainable resource use, and plans for the design district.

Mohammad Saeed Al-Shahi
BIOGRAPHY
Mohammad Saeed Al-Shahi is the COO of the Dubai Design District (d3), the region’s first community dedicated to the design industry. Prior to d3, Al-Shahi held a number of prominent roles within the broadcast sector. He was deputy CEO at Dubai Media Incorporated, where he was responsible for developing the organization’s corporate strategy and analyzing operational and performance efficiencies. Earlier, Al-Shahi was Senior Director of Broadcast Services at du, where he managed the telecommunications company’s strategy and growth plans for the broadcast divisions. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the American University of Sharjah.

How should the design sector be classified in order for it to be standardized?

We had worked with the Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC) on the MENA Design Outlook Study, the first study on the state of the design industry in the MENA region. The study asserted that the design industry market value surpassed $100 billion in 2014, with the UAE's $27 billion value being the second largest. We can apportion that figure to seven different segments of design: architecture, interior design, lighting, furniture, fashion, communication design, and visual arts. When we talk about design it is therefore in its broadest sense. We do not focus on just fashion or art; design can mean IT or automobiles. We already see this in d3, where we have architects, interior designers, fashion designers, and shoe designers all in the same cluster. This encourages them to do plenty of collaborations with each other and it is working well between the various partners.

How do you apply sustainable practices at d3?

The Dubai government has chosen d3 as the greenfield pilot site for the Smart Dubai program. An important pillar of Smart Dubai is sustainability resource use. We work with Smart Dubai to roll out 21 different smart initiatives, develop an innovative business community, and contribute to the realization of the Emirate's aspirations to make Dubai the happiest city on earth. Of the six dimensions aligned to Smart Dubai, environment is one of the key focuses, with services such as solar panel roofing, smart street lighting, and waste management being implemented. With the implementation of electric vehicle charging points, energy analytics to better enable our business partners with energy management, and also recycling across the district, we are enabling d3 to become more sustainable to ultimately benefit our end users.

What is your medium-term outlook for the UAE design market?

Growth in the design market is apparent and sustaining. However, the UAE is in a mature stage compared to other countries in the region, and it is up to us to lead progress in this area. We believe growth will continue, but it will not be as significant as in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However, this situation creates the opportunity for designers who come from d3 to contribute to growth in those other countries in the region. We have the right platform and the right supporting infrastructure and are building the right workshops and spaces. We also hope to host several design schools. All these will contribute to having the right mix and the right designers who can support the growth of the design industry in UAE and the wider region.

What are d3's prospects for 2016?

This is an important year for us, as we will see many more business partners move in. We are moving into the operational stage on d3, and the community is thriving. With our partners moving in, it is now possible to actually witness the collaboration that is happening on the ground between neighbors and the results of these collaborations at both local and international design events and festivals. This is crucial for us. It is also important to keep attracting such creative minds by sharing the success stories of our creative partners so far.

Where would you like to see d3 in 10 years' time?

Our vision for d3 has always been to provide a nurturing home for designers from across the region and beyond. In 10 years' time, I see d3 as a genuine center of regional design that incorporates and includes entities, individuals, and organizations from within the entire spectrum of design all working side by side. I want d3 to be behind the transcendence of emerging regional designers into genuine international brands. We have exceptional talent in this region and there in a global appetite for designs from the Middle East. I want d3 talent to become recognized on the international stage.