The MENA region is the fastest growing area in the world for design. According to the MENA Design Outlook report from 2016, the region’s current market value of USD$100 billion is set to increase annually by an average 6 per cent growth rate.
The need for global design expertise in the Middle East is therefore more prominent than ever. Art and design programmes at international higher education institutions like Middlesex University (MDX) Dubai are leading the way in producing the region’s future generations of design talent.
MDX Dubai’s BA (hons) graphic design programme was launched only four years ago and saw its third cohort of students finish their studies in June 2022. Founded on industry-relevant education that is powered by creative innovation, lead faculty Eddie Ryan and Margo Tummel use a combination of theory and practical skills development to prepare their students for thriving careers in the modern creative industries. Ryan and Tummel themselves possess an extensive portfolio of visual communications work in global markets such as the UK, Ireland and Australia.
All teaching is delivered in Middlesex’s dedicated Graphic Design Lab, where students benefit from state-of-the-art equipment and software that ensures they can develop the latest skills being used in professional design studios. From product photography to mastering the Adobe Creative Suite and other technologies, the Lab is well equipped to support all students to explore their own passions as well as the wide variety of topics offered across the programme’s curriculum.
Career-led education with industry exposure for students
Under their leadership, the programme has quickly established itself as a platform for student designer success and a provider of excellent art and design graduates. There are plenty of employment opportunities for designers in MENA, as companies and organisations across sectors continue to recognise the value of strategic design to successful business outcomes. Many Middlesex alumni have gone out to secure roles in design and advertising agencies, digital media companies, or even become entrepreneurs and freelance designers.
Amina Khan and Rovena Leitao graduated in 2021 and 2022 respectively and are both professional graphic designers; Khan works in the events industry and Leitao works for Savii, a youth bank organisation in Bahrain. Both agree that their lecturers pushed them outside their comfort zone and encouraged them to learn to assess their design work from a professional perspective.
“Every brief assigned to me opened up a new learning experience. The tasks given to me at work feel much easier to tackle because I’ve already done projects like this at university,” Leitao explains.
Khan says that she uses the skills she learnt at university in her day-to-day professional life, “from being trained in Adobe Creative Suite to more theory-based teachings like typography hierarchy and colour harmony.”
A supportive journey to becoming a professional designer
MDX Dubai’s graphic Design students follow a diverse educational pathway that they can tailor to their interests. They can choose to learn how to use the latest digital media tools; design for different mediums including advertising, packaging, photography, and editorial; hone their practical skills in areas such as typography, art direction, and exhibition design; and deepen their understanding of theoretical concepts such as branding and visual storytelling.
Throughout the three-year undergraduate degree, students are supported with their future career development through real-life projects in partnership with practicing designers, attendance at professional lectures, and encouragement and support to enter industry competitions. These opportunities offer students a platform to showcase their work and make connections.
Thanks to this rich, careers-focused education, MDX Dubai students are known for their talent and ingenuity, demonstrated by the number of awards and competition short-listings that they have achieved. Marie Rubiella, Class of 2021 graduate, received the first International Society of Typographic Designers award given to a student in the UAE. Arshya Rais, who graduated in 2021, showcased her final project at the Global Grad Show as part of Dubai Design Week 2021.
Khan recalls being shortlisted for the Dubai Lynx Student Print Competition as a key professional highlight of her time at university, as well as leading art and social media direction at MDX RedBeat, the university’s digital magazine.
For Leitao, joining the branding team of MDX’s THAT Design Festival, the region’s first university-led graphic design festival, taught her valuable career skills and offered outstanding professional experience. “This opportunity to work with my classmates to create assets like banners and posters allowed me to visualise what it’s actually like working on a live project.”
Instilling resilience and a passion for life-long learning
Eddie Ryan, head of graphic design at Middlesex University Dubai, explains how the University prepares its students to pursue a career in an industry that is rapidly changing: “Today’s designers must be digitally savvy and innovative visual communicators. Our team brings years of industry experience to the classroom, and we are proud to be able to offer a unique curriculum that empowers students to hone their design identities, define their creative voice, and push the boundaries of graphic design practice with our full support. Our students are incredibly talented and I am so proud of every one of them. If you’re creative, love visual art, and want to pursue an impactful career, I encourage you to apply for our BA (hons) graphic design this September.”
In this fast-paced, competitive field, which skills do its’ future graduates need to succeed? Khan and Leitao recommend for high school students interested in studying Graphic Design to explore their interests and build their soft skills.
“Be open to feedback,” Khan says. “Criticism isn’t personal. You can see every criticism as a learning opportunity to make your work better. Plus, pick up Adobe skills like Photoshop and Illustrator, which can help you in your first year.”
Leitao emphasises that communication is key. “It’s essential to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues so that when you pitch, you can convey persuasive solutions. Also, don’t be afraid to switch interests because the most significant skills you need to succeed are passion, articulation and self-influence.”
Attend TRANSFORM 2022 at Middlesex University Dubai on July 16 to learn more about their BA (hons) graphic design, enjoy interactive taster sessions and discover exciting prize giveaways, as well as receive dedicated guidance about securing your university place for September 2022. Sign up at www.mdx.ac.ae/transform2022