Bright ideas from the world's biggest student design show
Dubai is home to lots of things that lay claim to being the world's biggest. There you'll find the world's largest mall, with the world's tallest choreographed fountain dancing outside beneath the world's tallest man-made structure, the mighty Burj Khalifa. So where else would you find the world's largest student design show?
The Global Grad Show is part of Dubai Design Week, and both are now in their third year. The exhibition showcases the brightest ideas from design and technology universities all around the world, with 200 projects made by designers hailing from 92 schools across 43 different countries.
And every one of those designers was on-hand to present their creations, making a walk through the Global Grad Show quite an inspiring experience. On show were souped-up wheelchairs built for drift-racing, shoes made from renewable biomaterials, infant beds that use phototherapy to treat jaundice, and tents that can be stuffed into trekking poles.
The Gomi dung-collection device (pictured below), made by Anmol Gupta from the Pearl Academy in New Delhi, was certainly not the most high-tech of the contraptions on show, but might just have the biggest impact. Women in India charged with collecting cow dung typically use their hands to scoop it into buckets. The Gomi uses a scraper and basket to collect the dung in a similar way to a dust pan and broom, making for a more hygienic practice while preserving an important Indian tradition.
The MIKO+ collection of jewelry designed by Ewa Dulcet and Martyna Świerczyńska, from the School of Form in Poland, was crowned the winner by the global jury for its ability to not just look good, but deliver a form of physiotherapy to the user. Designed for heavy users of computers and sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome, the pink brass and mineral acrylic pieces are meant to replace the braces and splints typically used to treat those conditions, and are certainly are easier on the eyes.
A manual wheelchair fitted with a novel steering system that allows users to control the vehicle by shifting their torso, designed by Reto Togni from London's Royal College of Art, received an honorable mention. And so too did a system of kitchen utensils for the blind that features retractible guards for knives and a floating teaspoon to better warn of liquid contact.
This really is just a taste of the creativity on display at the exhibition. While in Dubai, New Atlas chatted with the director and curator of the Global Grad Show, Brendan McGetrick, to learn what makes it tick. But also be sure to check out our gallery for a better look at the diversity of the event.
What makes the Global Grad Show special?
What makes it special is that there is nothing like it in terms of the diversity of schools represented, countries represented and diversity of talent. So you really get to see what the next generation of designers and innovators are doing, from a much wider range of countries than you'd typically see.
Obviously the European schools, the North American schools and Australian schools get a lot more attention than some others, so to be able to have them all here in a single space with equal treatment for everybody, and a kind of level playing field for everybody, I think is what makes it special.
What do you think it is about student design shows in general that makes them special?
I think that's actually a really important question. The most obvious thing is that the students aren't responding to commercial pressures, so that produces a kind of work that is often much more personal, much more oriented towards making a positive social or environmental impact, and I think that because of that it is really interesting, because they kind of define and identify territories that the market simply misses. In that sense, they are a really important counterbalance.
What role do you think the Global Grab Show can play in fostering a design and innovation culture in a city like Dubai?
What we're trying to do here is expand the connotation of innovation beyond pure high tech stuff. Dubai is already very gung-ho for drone taxis and hyperloops and that kind of stuff. And that's fine, that stuff is cool too, but what we're trying to really do is emphasize innovation is not technology-dependent or wealth-dependent, that it's really about the quality of the ideas, about the sort of sensitivity with which you identify the problem and then how good your solution is. I think thats really important because it's a much more inclusive definition of innovation.
The other thing I would say is valuable for Dubai is just bringing in this quantity of people from all over the world. And I think that is what is great about Dubai, is that it is kind of constantly intelligence gathering. It is constantly having people from outside Dubai come in and talk about what they do and how they do it and it's about constantly trying to learn from the rest of the world. I think that's a beautiful mentality. I think in that sense the Global Grad Show can be helpful, because it concentrates so much new thinking and new ideas in a way that you can see in a day or in an hour.
What are you looking for when selecting students and exhibitors?
Basically what I'm looking for is a new idea. The main thing is that I don't focus on the final aesthetic of it. It is not that it doesn't matter at all, but I try to make sure that if something has enough of an interesting idea in it, that if it were to come into the world it would have a positive effect. Even if this is not the definitive thing, it should make a positive effect on the world. So that's what it basically is – new thinking, innovative ideas that are trying to use design to positively affect the world, socially or environmentally. That's mostly it and then I try to make sure they have a working prototype, so it's not just pure speculation.
You are fine to say "no comment" to this one, but do you have a personal favorite?
No, I don't. It's not that I would say no comment, but it's just almost impossible. The thing I love is the breadth of it. I really love the augmented reality children's book which is quite 21st century, and I really love the shovel for scooping up cow dung, which is like medieval almost. I love the fact that they're both in the same show, I love the fact that at least according to how we define it, they're both innovation and they both, particularly the cow dung one, has the potential to make a really massive impact and make a process that is happening all the time more hygienic and efficient. And it is basically being done without the aid of technology at all.