Photo courtesy: Downtown Design Events such as Downtown Design and Dubai Design Week educate people about quality products and the power of good designs Image Credit: Courtesy: Downtown Design

Designers often find themselves in tough situations when their clients ask them to either compromise on design or quality of product and service. Either the project’s budget is suddenly slashed or the developers get greedy or the clients start feeling that a cheap alternative should be used.

Every time it happens with me, I ask myself — have we really evolved? Have we really learnt the value of good design? Or is it still about “just” a pretty picture at the lowest price?

Living in the UAE, these issues bother me at a personal level because I am aware of the hard work individuals, organisations and the government are putting in for the growth of the creative sector. Global as these issues are, a growing design economy stands to suffer most.

From giving stunning interior design concepts to the Dubai Metro stations to the recent initiative to convert them into art spaces, the government has made considerable investments that have brought international quality design into everyone’s life.

“Design is becoming a way of life in the emirate and the city is on its way to becoming the premier location for design in the Middle East,” says Lindsay Miller, managing director of Dubai Design District.

“Be it enjoying the beautifully revamped public parks to a sense of pride in living with the Burj Khalifa in the backdrop, people are beginning to relate and respond to design in a more seamless manner.”

With Dubai Design Week scheduled in October, quality design will be part of our lives like never before. Public installations, design-led events, exhibits and talks will dot the city’s landscape. That interaction is sure to create an environment to enable appreciation for design. However, it will fall into the jurisdiction of the consumer to take this interface further wherein he is no longer willing to settle for the sub-standard.

“Having been in the region for the last eight years I have seen an upwards trajectory in the design market. People are now craving quality and authenticity,” says Kens Gourge, managing director, Kens & Company, a Dubai-based supplier of premium interior finishes.

He cites the evolution of the trade shows in the region as an accurate gauge. “Till very recently, interior trade shows were a mélange of products, quality not necessarily being consistent. Shows like Downtown Design dedicated to the innovative, top-line interior products further a conversation on quality and can help educate both designers and their clients on the worth of a superior, well-designed product.”

Educating the consumers — be it big developers or home-owners — is integral to sustained growth of the global design market. “While the design fraternity has evolved, clients continue to underestimate the true power of good design,” says Dubai-based interior designer Devjani Cox. “Rather than invest in a quality product that will pay for itself in the long run, a lot of people still are happy with short-sighted cheap alternatives.” Bringing quality design products to their doorstep might just force an interaction that could open their eyes.

Twice its size from its previous editions, Downtown Design 2015 seeks to achieve just that. “The regional design industry is growing in a sustainable manner. There are lots of elements that still need to evolve,” says Rue Kothari, fair director, Downtown Design.

“The broad appreciation of authentic design and true quality is just one of them. Once we are able to nurture our own regional design talent and provide a cost-effective manufacturing solution for them — then we’re on the right track.”

The bottom line is there will always be people — in the design and construction community and at the consumer level — looking for the cheapest alternatives and the best deals. And I’m going to go on a limb and say, that is OK too.

It’s OK because at their level, they are still having a conversation around design. It might be a superfluous one, but not only does that represent aspiration, it also presents the possibility that in time, they would learn to appreciate quality design and fingers crossed, happily pay for a superior product.

People who genuinely appreciate quality, craftsmanship and performance will never settle for anything but the best. They will strive to better their lives through able design and challenge the design community to continually surpass itself.

With their support and through initiatives such as Downtown Design and Dubai Design Week, the regional standards of design, its appreciation and a better understanding about the worth of quality in design is bound to evolve. With so many resources available to us, all we really need now is an open eye, an open mind and the will to change our attitudes towards design. Let’s start by treating design as an investment; let’s not settle for second best.

— Pratyush Sarup edits the design site designcarrot.net. You can follow the site on twitter @DesignCarrot.