Dubai Design Week 2017: Global Grad Show

Design problem-solving from 43 countries across six continents

Sometimes graduate shows can be a mixed bag. There are great ideas but poor output or beautiful products without much to say. That said, some such shows are exceptionally interesting, and this is the case with Global Grad Show. The international showcase, now in its third year, has already become one of the main events of Dubai Design Week—on the radar of visionary companies, design studios and design publications.

The show’s promise is allowing guests to see the future of design. We would say that this year, such a mission holds true thanks to the participation of 91 design schools and the work of Brendan McGetrick. An independent writer, curator, and designer, McGetrick has also been director and curator of the Global Grad Show since it launch in 2015.

The 200 projects on display don’t follow a national or sectorial partition but are grouped in three mains sections: Empower, Connect, Sustain. Throughout, there are interesting connections and meaningful clashes, such as an app that enables spontaneous parties next to a project for children who meet their parents in prison—or an Indian dung-collecting device close to a biodegradable sneaker made of algae. But also, there’s a font that creates empathy with people suffering from dyslexia next to a chair cover designed for patients with Alzheimer’s.

“The section ‘Design to Empower’ is all about how design can give people new abilities or allow them to do things more easily than they could before, or help them have ideas that they couldn’t have before,” McGetrick explains, “I think that’s one of the important aspects of design: it is expanding the tools that people have and expanding the set of options they have. So a lot of the design or the projects in the show do try to do that. They try to use design as a kind of relatively simple, small intervention in someone’s life that could open up more possibilities than they had before.”

Several clever pieces in the show stem from projects oriented toward people with disabilities or illnesses. “What’s beautiful about student design is that it’s not responding to commercial demands, it’s much more about looking at the world and seeing something that isn’t addressed,” McGetrick adds. “But then there’s a project which is about making it harder to spend money. Basically, it creates a few seconds delay when you’re about to use your credit card, to encourage you to really think, because [that] stuff is designed to have you never think for a second.”

McGetrick believes that innovation relies not just on hi-tech solutions, but also in good ideas. “Innovation is a term you hear everywhere, especially in Dubai or in Silicon Valley, you hear it all the time. The problem with that is it requires money, it requires infrastructure and it leaves out a huge part of the world’s population,” he says. “And I think it’s totally stupid because what innovation is… is simply new ideas, fresh thinking. It’s looking at unsolved problems providing some sort of solution, and a solution at a small enough scale that it can really happen, not that we have to cover the moon in solar panels to generate energy, but things that can really happen.”

McGetrick also believes that teachers should initiate problem-solving with their students—perhaps just by offering the challenge. As a teacher, “It should start with their experience in the things they really care about,” he says, “but I also think what’s interesting about being a teacher is that you can just give students an assignment and they have to deal with it. I think what’s beautiful about student work is the way it can really engage problems, engage things that actually bother them and encourage them to take a productive view of it and really try to do something meaningful with it.”

Global Grad Shows involves 43 countries from six continents. And here, clearly, one can find the future of furniture dealing with problems of today. “A lot of people in Europe and America, whether or not they realize it, are adjusting their mentality for a less luxurious lifestyle. I think we will need to adjust our intelligence and our flexibility basically in order to prepare for that, and I think looking at the emerging world, the problems they’re dealing with and the way they’re dealing with them is a good place to start.” Moreover, McGetrick believes what’s coming from the developing world might just be the most important.

“I’m actually for progress,” he says, “That’s what a show like this is all about. I’m not about, ‘Let’s all go back to the hunter/gatherer stage,’ which is a bit of a trend these days. I’m all for new ideas and making new things. I just think we should be honest about what we’re looking at. So let’s acknowledge that. Let’s be real about it and then try to figure out something.”

Global Glad Show runs through 18 November at Dubai Design District, d3 Waterfront.

Images courtesy of Paolo Ferrarini