Design Meets Social Impact: Insight Into Beirut Design Week

Flickr/CC/Maya-Anaïs Yataghène

By Minji Hong


Look around you and you’ll realize that every single discernible object had been born from someone’s ingenious mind and wrought by someone’s dexterous hands. Your quirky phone case, the magnets on your fridge, the website you were just surfing, the patterns on your favorite sweater, the traffic lights you come across each day on your way to school/ work. These objects have been designed to serve different purposes, either for a particular function, for pure esthetics, or both! What is certain is that these objects shape our day-to-day lives from how we dress to how we access the internet to read this very article you are reading right now. And so why not use this already enormous base of consumers and scope of impact to design with a social impact to really reach out to a wider audience and maximize the influence with the messages we want to voice?

Flickr/CC/Salih IGDE
Flickr/CC/Salih IGDE

This was the guiding principle behind the theme of “Social Beings,” for the fourth annual Beirut Design Week at the heart of Lebanon in June 2015. As the director of this internationally acclaimed project, Doreen Toutikian affirms the role of design as, “a tool for innovation in social change and business development,” which reinforces the event’s focus to provide a comprehensive platform comprised of various exhibitions, conferences, workshops and open studios as a means to foster the growth of creative communities and design entrepreneurship, facilitate intercultural exchange of skills and experiences, support design as an academic field, and last but not least, developing the importance of designing for social impact.

Beirut Design Week was launched in 2012 as the first of the now 5 design weeks in the Middle East and North Africa Region by the MENA Design Research Center, a non-profit organization founded in 2011 geared towards creating social impact and strengthening the role and appreciation for Design in the region. The platform continues to be the largest event of its kind in the region, welcoming more than 25,000 visitors, inviting 50 professionals, and hosting more than 150 events in about a 100 locations around the city, as well as introducing many startup design entrepreneurs to the market.

Flickr/CC/Francisco Antunes
Flickr/CC/Francisco Antunes

Not only does the event unite people from all over the world to celebrate the creative innovation that design brings to change the world, but also brings to light Lebanon’s rich culture despite the instability prevalent in the region. It has paved a successful path for subsequent additions to the series of design weeks in the region, such as the Bahrain International Design Week, Saudi Design Week, and similar events in Dubai and Cairo.


The 2015 edition of this event featured an international conference in which academics and professionals prominent in the many diverse field of design, such as IBM, Parsons New York, and Instituto Europeo di Design, created an intellectual discourse around the role of design as its use in business and technology to make advancements in society for the better.

As director Toutikian concludes, “Design thinking is about prototyping; it’s about finding problems and streamlining the process of finding solutions. All solutions have an expiration date, so it’s important to focus on the process rather than the destination.”