Elevating design standards is one of the most talked about issues, as locally-based companies try to create a style and identity for Dubai, the UAE and the Middle East. Who better then to tackle the question than some of the most high-profile names in the industry?
Two of the panellists – Diane Thorsen, former Perkins+Will design director, and Nomadk founder, Kevin McLachlan – have occupied the top spot on Commercial Interior Design’s Power 50 List in previous years. They were joined by H+A design director, David Lessard; Laura Bielecki, senior manager of interior design at Ellington Properties; and Khalid Shafar, founder and director of KASA.
Esra Lemmens, design consultant and founder of the Esra Lemmens Agency, kept everything in order as moderator.
Thorsen kicked off the conversation, lamenting what she sees as too much “quantity” and not enough “quality” design being developed.
“I think the market needs to focus on human-centric design and what I mean by that is designing both architecture and interior spaces that focuses on designing for the human experience,” she said. “We need to create environments where the human experience connects with nature, focuses on sustainability and how we can engage with health and wellbeing.”
Speaking next, McLachlan, who established Nomadk to “push standards” of design for himself and others, said eliminating waste is essential to improve industry standards.
“Waste is one of the most crucial things in our business – there is wasted time, wasted talent, wasted money – it is the cornerstone of failure in projects. If we can show clients how not to waste time and effort and the fact that we can do things quicker with fewer people there’s value there,” he stressed.
Bielecki, the only client-side designer on the panel, noted the importance of demonstrating a mix of skills to developers. “To have a holistic product you need to hire a firm with a holistic team,” she said. “If you hire a firm that has people who are experienced with WELL design, sustainability, feng shui, it starts bringing something stronger to the table.”
Change was a topic that came up again and again. Lessard said he believes the global design industry is at a “tipping point” and he stressed that the Middle East needs a new methodology and approach to development due to the oversaturation of many project typologies.
Emirati product designer Khalid Shafar, born and raised in Dubai, said the shift in standards will not be sudden and any changes need to be implemented slowly.
“We are the influence on the client to change the way they think, to implement the design values we want to imbed, but that will take time,” he said. “If we embed a philosophy of change in our practices and implement this slowly until we feel we can implement it without looking at the financial results, that’s where we reach the tipping point and a shift [in standards].”