The urge to surround ourselves with beautiful things is almost primal, it seems.
Bright ideas and lightbulb moments likely at Dubai Design Week
Human beings have embellished their belongings since the beginning of time. Whether it is etchings on prehistoric pottery, the powerful and enduring decorative motifs of the Ancient Egyptians, or the striking ceramics of the Ming dynasty, mankind has endeavoured to impose aesthetic value on functional objects since the dawn of civilisation. The urge to surround ourselves with beautiful things is almost primal, it seems.
While fashion is deemed the trendier discipline and art is the more intellectually revered form, I have always been more drawn to industrial design – the creation of the things that we use, rather than wear, or simply admire for the sake of admiring.
I remember attending one of the early incarnations of Design Days Dubai, which this year is being repackaged as Downtown Editions, and having a literal lightbulb moment when I saw Studio Drift’s Fragile Future light “sculpture”.
It was an awe-inspiring composition of bronze electrical circuits connected to light-emitting dandelion seeds – actual dandelion seeds that had been picked by hand and attached, seed by seed, to tiny LED lights. The end result was so ethereally beautiful that it made me marvel at the sheer audacity of the human spirit.
Product design appeals to my more pragmatic side, since it is ultimately anchored in functionality. A lamp may be beautiful and it may, in itself, be a work of art but it still serves a purpose. You know what it is; you know what it means and you know where you stand with it. There is no room for doubt and no need for endless existential musing, as is often the case with art.
The objects we surround ourselves with are just as much an expression of our inner selves as the clothes we wear, but there is a longevity to a beautifully formed table, or fork, or pair of headphones that is lacking in a shirt or dress or pair of shoes. Fashion is how you present yourself to the rest of the world, but industrial design is how you reinforce who you are to yourself.
Karim Rashid, one of the most prolific designers of our time, raised a pertinent point when I interviewed him a few years ago: “The number of objects that we are interacting with on a daily basis is around 600 to 700. I think it’s great that we are beginning to understand that these objects around us have a huge effect on our public psyche and on our daily lives.”
I have spent the last 10 years writing about interior and industrial design in the Middle East, and have had the singular experience of watching a completely undervalued discipline slowly making its way to the fore. Ten years ago, there was virtually no design being created in the UAE and very little recognition of its value.
At this week’s Dubai Design Week, the current breadth of the region’s design prowess will be on show for all to see. Initiatives such as Tashkeel’s Tanween, which supports and grooms emerging designers, have yielded remarkable results. The existence of platforms such as the Dubai Design District, Dubai Design Week and the new Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation are all acting as catalysts for the evolution of the UAE’s design scene.
Just like those Ming vases and prehistoric bowls, the products that are on show in D3 this week may one day act as signifiers of our time. As Rashid also said: “I always look back at how we have understood the history of humanity, and we have done that through artefacts. If I excavate an urn from the Ming dynasty and I study it, I can understand the civility of the time, the vision of the time, the social behaviours, all those things. So when I design something for 2011, I consider whether that object will inevitably become some artefact that denotes the time in which we live.”
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