Lebanese design deserves attention

Initiatives need to move past the individual to the state level

Photo by: Greg Demarque/Executive

Design, as the fruit of creativity that enables its user to co-define and express their identity, while optimally matching form and function of a product or process, has been around for as long humans have had the capacity to imagine.

Lebanon is a great example for the presence of design throughout the history of people living on the culturally fertile shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. When compared with the past roles and value-added functions of design—for example 100 years ago when the legendary Bauhaus was established as laboratory of ideas, architecture, and applied arts in 1919’s Germany—design capabilities today appear to represent an even greater asset in our times of societies’ digital transformation, economic globalization, and wide-ranging individual pursuits of new identities.

While numerous innovative design approaches have been fostered through the private initiative of design professionals, teachers, and thinkers in Lebanon over the last few years (as Executive has reported), the design sector in this country still remains sadly underappreciated, incompletely mapped, quite poorly understood, and even more poorly supported by important political and financial institutions. As our investigation of Lebanese design conditions in this issue shows, the ecosystem for design is growing, but marked mainly by individual efforts and scattered individual success stories.

The value of the ecosystem and support structures for Lebanese design industries have not been comprehensively and systematically assessed for their contribution to the struggling industry sector or the national economy as whole. There are many hints that creative and cultural industries—first-line beneficiaries of designer inputs—can thrive, but very little information is available on how design investments translate into economic gains in long-standing or newly reimagined crafts workshops.

Finally, design appears to be an underexplored and largely untapped mental resource when taken in the sense of improving not only the beauty and functionality of products, but in the sense of the importance of citizen-centric design for reforming heavily outdated, non-transparent, and wasteful processes in the interactions between citizens and their public servants.

Thus, at this time Executive draws attention to the need for greater appreciation of design as part of the revitalizations, the structural and administrative reforms, and the economic and financial investments that are the acknowledged priorities of Lebanon for 2019 and the coming years. Governmental support of design is needed and, under current pressures on the government, there should be an awareness and wide organizational buy-in into the importance of design as part of implementing e-government and digital transition in the public sector.

Many design stakeholders confessed to Executive that they would be delighted if the state would commit tangible support to design—in forms of sponsorship of export-enhancing design exhibitions abroad, easing of export procedures for design products, or fiscal and structural support for young ventures in creative and cultural industry with high-value added—but also say that, realistically, they prefer to not expect governmental support that will cost our cash-strapped state.

Design stakeholders believe that private sector support, on the other hand, could be envisioned to incorporate very impactful financial angles. This could be as fundamental as using design in manufacturing processes from the first moment and showing financial appreciation toward design contributions to products manufactured in the private sector by adequately remunerating their designers. However, it could be even more powerful if industrialists and private investors were to dedicate funds for investing into design clusters and enterprises, or engage with Lebanese designers in efforts of better defining and organizing the design sector as professional syndicate or association. Academic institutions with stakes in design development could broaden their course offerings to teach more of the history of Arab and Lebanese design (instead of prioritizing other aspects of this history), and they also would do well to improve efforts to encourage female design in what has been presented wrongly as a male-dominated realm.

Presently, many Lebanese designers, design workshops, consultancies, and agencies have their days fully filled by the struggle for financial survival. They have precious little time for organizing and advancing the design culture that can add a lot of economic and social value to the nation. If public and private stakeholders with great potential to benefit from design made in Lebanon consolidate their will to think design when taking Lebanon through its impending reforms, economic invigorations, and new expressions of its wealth of talents and identities, new economic and social potentials can be unlocked at low cost when compared to likely benefits. Executive thus sees great new value potentials in focusing on design from measuring the economic value of design inputs over further empowerment of the design ecosystem to, in the long run, viable financial inputs in form of private investments and public incentives.

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