q&a The owner and founder of the Traffic gallery and shop in Dubai discusses product design and the recent Traffic design competition.
On the road to great design
I studied marketing management and psychology in the States, but when I came back I worked within the family business, which is paper converting. I was made responsible for product design, for rebranding the logo and for a few major events, and I really enjoyed that part of things. So about two or three years ago, I went to my dad and I said, you know what, I think contemporary furniture would be a nice market to expand in.
The idea started as a small gift shop, then it developed into a furniture store and then, after seeing what guys like The Third Line, S*uce and Five Green were doing for the local fashion and arts scene, I thought, "I can turn this into a cultural commercial project". As a family we do a lot of charity work and I thought, "OK, I don't have the resources to do charity, but I do have the resources to create a platform for local design enthusiasts". So that's why we created the library and set up these sort of competitions and events.
Big time. A lot of the safer brands have found a good market in Dubai - the B&B Italias and so on. I'm a fan of those brands, but there are more experimental brands out there, like Droog and Established & Sons, that couldn't find a platform until we came along.
The competition was something that had been in me for years. I've been travelling to design exhibitions or design weeks for the last three or four years, and I found that design from this part of the world was lacking representation. It was inconceivable to me that in our part of the world there isn't any talent. At the top of my agenda when I created Traffic was to somehow source these guys, so we created this competition.
Honestly, our resources were very limited, our contacts were very limited, so I was travelling and touring and making sure that people took part. When we started calling for entries, it was late December and our only resource was a small database of a thousand people, so our friends, like The Third Line, helped. We had great media partners like Brownbook and Bidoun. We visited colleges and universities in the UAE; we called universities in Saudi, Egypt, Lebanon - it was really very personal. We couldn't take it to the next level, but I think that after this first run, when people see what we've done, things will pick up. In terms of nominees, those in the top 10 were people who had the background not only on how to design but how to manufacture. That was good and bad - bad because we had hoped to get people who are just design lovers, who have that hidden love. But the good side is that it was a serious, credible competition and those who participated were those who knew what it takes to create a design.
With fashion, what's happening is that it's the hierarchy of needs. Everyone has to dress, but we're at the stage where not everyone cares about their own homes or their furniture. Here people come to live, they stay for two years and they're ready to go back, so do they really want to invest? The demand isn't there. Will it change? I think by 2010 it will, and I'm already feeling it. Friends are starting to own their own spaces and now they're willing to invest in furniture. They're getting their own homes, inviting people over, earning more, doing better, so eventually they are going to start demanding more of this designer furniture.
I think that sometimes it is overused. It's like you have to use the calligraphy and the Islamic patterns, and I think that design is just design. If it's design in Dubai and it doesn't have calligraphy and Islamic patterns, maybe this is what Dubai is about now. I don't like to see a product that's beaten with a stick, saying, "You must look Arabic". Just make it look great, make it look like you want it to look.