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Design Education in the Middle East Essay

The Middle East is a part of the world that has been left behind in terms of design discourse and education. This is the result of years of struggle from political, economical, and cultural setbacks. The first part of the thesis offers a general description of the region through a brief history of events that have contributed to its current state, concentrating on Qatar, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran.

Furthermore, the existing design schools in Doha, Beirut, Cairo and Tehran are examined by their curricula and teaching methodologies with interviews from professors and students as well as project samples from various design courses offered in the schools. Consequently, a general analysis among them is deduced, examining some challenges and opportunities found in the culture and design education system.

Then a selection of three of the most famous and progressive design schools in the world (Koeln International School of Design, Parsons New School for Design, and Design Academy Eindhoven) are taken into account, providing a basis for comparison as well as some direction regarding design education on global standards. As an initial venture to attempt to understand the standards of design education in Middle Eastern design students; Beirut is taken as a case study where the project ‘Public Design Intervention: Beirut’ is initiated in May 2010.

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Students as well as some young professionals were asked to design public interventions that are concerned with cultural, social, political and environmental issues in their country. As design is still in its primitive stages that deal mostly with commercial purpose, the participants were given the opportunity to use design as a tool for awareness and change. The results of this project provided collective motivation for the much needed improvement of the design education system.

The final part of the thesis deals with design education and culture, explaining the need for a sustainable and self-generative relationship between the two. The crucial importance in understanding cultural behavior provides keys to the establishment of a design education curriculum. Moreover, the lack of cultural sensitivity is one of the main problems in Middle Eastern design education; this is largely due to the implementation of Western curricula which serve different cultural needs. Hence, a set of Middle Eastern cultural aspects are discussed, and opportunities in their implementation in design discourse are inspected.

Finally, the outcome of the thesis, which initially aimed at redefining the existing design education curricula in the Middle East, is the proposal of a design research center. This center would act as a hub for the entire Middle East, creating links between Middle Eastern design schools and the industry. A crucial area of research would be to further investigate the cultural, social, and economical aspects of the region and provide more detailed and scientific knowledge that would eventually lead to the improvement of design education in the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern Design Research Center is to be established in Beirut with an interdisciplinary team of designers, social scientists, and educators dedicated to understanding vital aspects of Middle Eastern culture and adopting them as core influences on a new design education program for the region. The center should also act as a link between academic projects and the manufacturing industry.

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