DIDI gets some more detail … but not too much

More details about the Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation were given at a packed press conference on Monday just before Dubai Design Week opened.

So DIDI (DeeDee or Dee Eye Dee Eye? Apparently there’s some debate internally) plans to open its doors in Autumn 2018, offering an unusual curriculum – the ‘innovation’ bit isn’t there just for show – to a cohort of around 100 students who will be taking a four-year course leading to a Bachelor of Design degree.

DIDI is a private, non-profit educational institution, a joint venture between d3 developer Tecom and the government’s Dubai Design and Fashion Council. It will be accredited by the UAE Ministry of Higher Education, and DIDI will probably seek international accreditation as well for its the Bachelor of Design degree – we’d guess from the US National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), which requires the institution to complete one whole degree course before it awards its imprimatur.

The target capacity is 550 students, and they’ll be housed in a single building designed by Foster + Associates that has just started construction on a plot next to the present Dubai Design District buildings. (Incidentally, Foster is one of a clutch of architect companies that have announced they will be setting up in d3.)

Students will get access to “the best design education the region provides” because DIDI will offer “a world class curriculum that will help create a new generation of skilled people in the region, by using design as the vehicle for change to help shape the future of civilizations and contribute to the happiness of societies”.

In fact there seems to be a good chance that this turns out to be more than hyperbole. The numbers will be small – a cohort of 550 students won’t make much of a dent in the regional shortfall of 30,000 designers identified by the MENA Design Education Outlook report released in May 2016 – but the quality of their degrees should be very high.

That’s because of an imaginative curriculum that is being designed with input from MIT (its School of Architecture and Planning) and The New School’s Parsons School of Design (aka Parsons). Both of these contributed snippets of video commentary that were light on detail but big on aspiration; and since both have a record of delivering, their involvement augers well.

Ali Jaber of DDFC at the DIDI press launch
Ali Jaber of DDFC at the DIDI press launch

A Dean has apparently been appointed already, “an experienced individual from a Tier 1 university in the United States” as Ali Jaber put it to us. The name can’t be made public yet because of his contractual commitments.

Ali Jaber – who is the DDFC council member most closely identified with the DID project, along with DDFC chair (and Tecom CEO) Amina Al Rustamani – also told us that a low student:staff ratio is planned. That means a core of around ten full-time faculty at a senior level and a mass of visiting lecturers and specialists, notably from MIT and Parsons.

Dr Amina Al Rustamani of DDFC and Tecom
Dr Amina Al Rustamani of DDFC and Tecom

As for the students, there’s obviously real desire to foster an indigenous and regional design capability, but there will be no restrictions on nationality. Support with fees is obviously under consideration – DIDI can’t possibly be a cut-price school – and Emiratis will obviously benefit most from that, but the melting-pot nature of Dubai (and of design) is obviously going to be reflected in the student mix. We’d expect to see some bursary-type support, if only because this is the kind of thing that US institutions normally insist on.

The degree will have “cross concentrations” in Product Design, Strategic Design Management, Visual Arts, Media and Fashion Design. The last of those will see input primarily from Parsons, the other three are spot on for MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning.

The teaching model appears to be fashionably cross disciplinary, “based on balancing academic learning with practical experience”. The degree will be a studio-centric course based on the 3Cs – Concept, Communication and Craft – designed to enable students to apply the knowledge and skills they acquire; we interpret this to mean that DIDI will emphasise delivery as much as creativity, with technology and fabrication (possibly even business practice) key elements of the course. Not exactly vocational, but certainly giving the graduates tools to put their ideas into practice.

That’s about as much as we know about the curriculum. The press launch featured no one from the academic side, so there was no detail about precisely what and how the students will study.

There wasn’t anyone present from Foster + Partners, either, but we can make some deductions about the teaching style from Foster’s design for the campus. It’s a single low-rise staggered cube with six levels and a central atrium, intended to simulate a community of adjacent studios (and a fab lab) that enables “cross-collaboration between design disciplines, bringing students and faculty together in a dynamic environment” (there’s a lot of this kind of language in the DIDI announcement). A third of the building’s 100,000 sq ft will be studio space.

The visuals for the building have “2019” blazoned on the exterior, so that’s presumably when it becomes available for teaching.

Hashim Sarkis, Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning was bang on message with his remark that “the announcement of DIDI affirms the growing importance of design as a means to improve the relationship between human beings and their environment, both in the UAE and globally”.

He also said “We could not be more enthusiastic about working with Dubai to nurture design talent and to promote design and design thinking as powerful tools for building a better world”.

And “we’ve witnessed the immense potential of design-oriented disciplines to contribute to and transform culture and society,” said J Meejin Yoon, professor and head of the Department of Architecture at MIT. “Our faculty are excited to work with our counterparts at DIDI to build the new institution and its foundational curriculum and look forward to the impact this unique institution will yield on design education and industry locally and globally.”

The total financial investment for the project is estimated to be AED 270 million. We tried for clarification on how this breaks down, for instance between the physical campus and the running costs, but as is the UAE’s way things remain pretty opaque here.


Foster + Partners have designed a single-building campus for DIDI, a cool and functional building that is mercifully free of starchitect glitz and therefore shouldn’t compete with what happens inside it


The interior has a central atrium with studios, labs and workspaces around it, connected by busy community-inspiring walkways


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