Young Saudi designers given boost with Adhlal mentor initiative
The memorandum of understanding signed a year ago at the annual Saudi Design Festival between the research-based consultancy Adhlal and Effat University has now come to fruition with young student creatives transforming their work into action.
Shada Hotel is embracing the solutions and output of the up-and-coming Saudi design students. Located in the heart of Jeddah, the hotel is characterized by its breezy, clean aesthetic and modern interpretation of southern Asiri culture, including Al-Qatt art and Sadu embroidery.
The novel program titled “Effat University Design Project” aims to connect the dots between academia, industry and community through research-driven design solutions.
The program has students divided into four groups, each addressing a different area — customer experience, food and beverage, housekeeping and front desk. The design initiative is in line with the goals of Vision 2030, which focuses on economic growth, creativity and innovation.
“It’s really important to give the students the tools that they need to succeed. And that’s more than just how to design. It’s how to identify problems, how to research properly, how to start a business, how to promote yourself, how to deal with deadlines, how to deal with a real-time client, which is not something that they really get the benefits of,” Princess Nourah Al-Faisal, founder of Adhlal, told Arab News.
Rumaysa Mohammed, a member of the customer-experience group, told Arab News: “I think one of the biggest things is localization … The fact that we get to work with a hotel that is very culture-centric, that is preserving the values and traditions of this place, just adds to the richness of this entire project … the fact that we’re preserving, and we’re not being influenced by the West in this. It’s very much made by our people, for our people.”
“If you look at the products that are being designed or anything that’s been designed, it is so heavily influenced by the culture, that some people argue that the design is the culture,” Mohammed added.
Dr. Sajid Khalifa, head of the design department at Effat University, told Arab News: “The objective of this project is to give our students real industry and work experience so that they are acting as design consultants.”
Dr. Ahmed Kassab, assistant professor of industrial design, said: “It gives them the empowerment of industry experience and dealing with a real customer with real needs.”
Dennis Meulenbroeks, founder and director of Dutch design consultancy NEAR, acting under Adhlal, said that during a tour of the campus their specialists found that students were not particularly research driven.
After conducting its own research, Adhlal worked with Effat faculty members to identify the disconnect between the needs of design market stakeholders and the university students.
A big goal of the initiative is to legitimize the design education system and sector within the Kingdom. As mega-projects take center stage across the Kingdom, from NEOM to The Line, industry leaders believe that design will be at the core of upcoming initiatives.
Batool Justanieh, the leader of the front-desk group, told Arab News: “Designers’ minds and hands shape the aesthetics and the structure of the product, and the Effat design department has contributed and made us capable of participating in international and national projects.
“They’re striving for our growth, and they’re giving us solid foundations and digital modeling, and rendering and sketching. It’s all tools that can help us do the research and the work that we need to do to move forward (with) the project.”
Princess Nourah was optimistic about the road ahead. “Design thinking is only a few years old (in Saudi Arabia). And the implementation of design research, design consultancy and strategy are all very new things for us here. For me, the ability to not have to start from scratch, to be able to jump off of what we can learn from the rest of the world and let that propel us into the future is really quite an opportunity,” she said.
After an initial presentation of the students’ findings earlier this month, Shada Hotel’s CEO and Creative Director Reem Garrash said she was impressed by the high standard of the students’ work.
“It’s outstanding. They’re at the level of international consultancies … We are so grateful to have worked with them and experienced the values that they’ve added to the hotel. Questioning every element in order to enrich the experience was the ultimate goal for us,” she told Arab News.
Princess Nourah said Adhlal hopes to develop this initiative and work with more institutions and businesses to grow the Saudi industry. “I’m very excited about this type of approach to empowering a new generation, and I hope that more and more universities are really going to start being open to things like this. If done correctly, I really think and believe that there’s no limit to what we could achieve,” she said.