'The future of design in the Middle East looks very bright’: Mariagrazia De Angelis, MD at Landor & Fitch Dubai
Posted on 2021 Jun,09  | By Ghada Azzi

In a talk with ArabAd, Mariagrazia De Angelis, Managing Director at Landor & Fitch Dubai, discusses the future of design in the region and shares here take on why diversity of talent is essential to impactful and innovative design.

How do you foresee the future of design in the region?

There is a new generation of creative talent emerging in the region; a generation, which is much more rooted and much more future-forward in their outlook. With local culture embedded in their thinking, they have a better understanding of how design and creativity can work across the nuances of the region. This generation is also aware and engaging with globalised trends and topics such as sustainability, so they are in a unique position to translate these elements into design solutions, which resonate and affect real change – and I think that potential is so exciting.

Given this brilliant balance of cultural intuition and energy for innovation, the future looks very bright. Especially with the ongoing support from local governments to help develop the creative industry through various programmes and profile-raising activity, such as Abu Dhabi Culture’s ‘Modern Heritage’ programme, and The Royal Commission for Riyadh’s ‘Riyadh Art Project’ – two wonderful programmes bringing art, culture, and design to the forefront of the region’s urban spaces.


What are some of the design projects coming out of the region that caught your attention lately?

We’re in love with the art in the EXPO sustainability pavilion in the UAE. The overall design architecturally is stunning, and with such a great purpose behind it.

The work they have commissioned from regional artists, such as Ayman Zedani and Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim is just inspirational. I would highly recommend a visit to go and see it as soon as it opens. The focus on using EXPO as a driver for change is purposeful design that matters.

Dana Awartani’s exploration of traditional Arabian creative practices with a contemporary take is also incredible.

The diversity of talent in the region is immense, and as the current generation of new designers ‘come of age’, they are using modern media to express their creativity and their views. Instagram is alive with inspirational design. We see a lot of social responsibility commentary driving creativity, much of this by ‘third culture citizens’ exploring the culture they have been brought up in and combining it with their own heritage.


What are some of the recommendations that you can share to level up design work in the region?

Approaching design through the lens of brand is essential to really drive extraordinary and meaningful creative. It’s the most effective and unique way to ensure design is brought to life genuinely, and a reflection of the brand purpose and values. And it’s impossible to copy.

Brand-led transformation by design is central to our ethos and approach at Landor & Fitch. And it can work across any sector – seen in our Brand-led Sustainability work, which highlights the need to shift the paradigm from compliance into real value through brand-led design and differentiation. This informed our DIDI brief to students; a challenge to design the most sustainable brand for a key sector of the GCC economy.


“We see a lot of social responsibility commentary driving creativity, much of this by ‘third culture citizens’ exploring the culture they have been brought up in and combining it with their own heritage.”


Do you think the diversity of talent is something present across agencies or is there still much work and efforts to be taken on that level?

At Landor & Fitch Dubai, we are a team of 40 people across 25 nationalities; diversity of talent is one of the key pillars of our culture – it’s important to us as a team and it’s a priority for me as Managing Director.

Looking across the agency network, I think it just depends on the focus of different agencies. I can say that over the last few years I have recognised plenty of positive change across the industry here in the region. There has been a lot of due attention and constructive conversations that seem to be turning into actions which is really encouraging. Not to mention an acceleration in support from regional governments, who are introducing new policies and schemes to facilitate diverse workforces.


Why is diversity of talent important in your opinion to achieve innovative design? 

With our 20-year history of brand transformation in the Middle East, we know that extraordinary creativity and innovation are based on the collision of ideas from different perspectives.

The more diverse we are, the more innovative and impactful our design will be.

Diversity is crucial to elevate design to phenomenal heights, set new benchmarks and affect real-world change that connects to a wide range of audiences rather than just one.


“Diversity is crucial to elevate design to phenomenal heights, set new benchmarks and affect real-world change that connects to a wide range of audiences rather than just one.”


Tell us about Landor & Fitch’s partnership with DIDI (Dubai Institute of Design & Innovation) and The Project Design Space. What lies ahead?

We truly believe in supporting the development of the creative industry here in the region. As part of our Diversity & Inclusion initiative at Landor & Fitch, we were keen to invest our time in mentoring the next generation of design students – to help nurture their talents, open their horizons in terms of career progression, and guide them on navigating it the best way possible.

We are taking them step by step through the process of a real design brief: highlighting the best strategic approach, how to ideate and map out a plan, what are the business considerations, what technologies and techniques will help to get the best result, and so on.

The feedback has been overwhelming so far. We’ve had so many positive responses and school applicants in building the most sustainable brands for the region. We’re looking forward to seeing the finalists at the judging in early June.


Can you share few tips for future design talents?

Be yourself, don’t be afraid to express your design roots, your design culture. If you’ve been influenced by a crazy cultural upbringing, let it show in your work - don’t be afraid to be the product of what made you.

Human-centric work is important, as is having a point of view of the world around you. What really adds value to a portfolio of work is the capability to show the range of work you’ve been involved in and your ability to explore many facets of design and creativity.

Don’t spend your life online. Go offline, get analogue, get out and discover the world around us. It’s not going to give you an algorithmic view of what you find comfortable or familiar, it will inspire you beyond your expectations.

Don’t be afraid to intern and hone your craft. There are a lot of sectors across the creative industry; if you want to be a brand designer, why not try interning at telco or a real estate firm? Spend time in environments you aren’t familiar with and try out different industries to expand your own creativity.