A 3D-printed brace and hugging chair were among the pieces on show at this year's Global Grad Show and MENA Grad Show, as design students react to the coronavirus pandemic and global activist movements.
Sixty projects by university graduates from the Middle East and North Africa are currently on show at the annual design festival Dubai Design Week under the MENA Grad Show banner, including a mobile dialysis centre and an AI device that reacts to offensive speech.
The Global Grad Show normally takes place physically in Dubai, but was moved online as many global graduates were unable to travel to the region this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Alongside the virtual exhibition, a physical event, called the MENA Grad Show, presented the work of local students.
Many of the chosen projects for both shows focus on healthcare, an issue that curator Carlo Rizzo said built upon the work shown last year.
"When I edited last year's edition, I really noticed how the vast majority of projects were looking at making the life of patients and people living with illness and disability as close to a normal life as possible," Rizzo told Dezeen.
"Whereas this year there is a really strong focus on access," he added. "So this idea of, for example, a remote clinic that does dialysis and moves around, or a digital system that allows a doctor to monitor remotely what's happening at home."
"I think this is a direct result of us witnessing the pandemic and witnessing the healthcare systems, in some cases failing, in some cases being stretched to a degree that they never been stretched before. Graduates have been incredibly responsive to these ideas," Rizzo added.
Among the healthcare projects on show in Dubai are Shefa Masr, a mobile dialysis service in Egypt that lets patients with kidney failure access hemodialysis medical care services and reserve dialysis sessions without having to go to a big city, and NYMO, a robot that encourages self-care for elderly people.
At the Global Grad Show, projects with a health focus include the Immunization Calculator – a digital service that monitors the vaccine status of children in Uganda, Sapthen, a 3D-printed, adaptable brace, and a hugging chair designed to comfort people with autism.
Another noticeable theme for this year's shows was a focus on creating solutions for a fairer society.
"I think there has been a reaction to global activist movements that deal with safety and diversity and issues of equality, and all of that is being reflected into what I consider to be one of the key themes of this year's Global Grad Show," Rizzo explained.
"We call [this theme] a fair and sacred society – projects that really look at these issues," he added. "To me, that's the biggest news for this year's Global Grad Show; there has really been a strong reaction from students in that."
The theme was also evident at the MENA Grad Show, where projects included Arshya Rais' Bindass Vellas, which aims to question the deep-rooted role of patriarchy in Indian society. Her conceptual brand targets a younger male audience to encourage them to help out more in the home.
"There are some small, everyday things that underpin patriarchal value that we ignore," Rais told Dezeen. "One of those things is the unequal division of household chores; it's always the woman who is doing it; the man of the house, not so much."
"So I created a brand which has packaging related to cooking and cleaning tools, targeted especially towards the younger generation of Indian males," she added. "Our generation is ready for change, it just needs a bit of a push."
Also on show at the MENA Grad Show was the Themis, an AI device that "personifies political correctness" by recognising offensive speech, such as racial slurs or slut-shaming, and audibly reacting to them.
Global Grad Show projects that focus on the subject include F*** Ethics, a design program created to "help tech startups assess and act upon the ethical implications of their products" and DiDa, a doll designed to help parents teach children about sex and boundaries.
For Rizzo, the domination of these subjects at this year's MENA and Global Grad Shows is an indication of what kind of design we will see in the near future.
"This is going to be the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs," he said. "And so, to see what their concerns are today means that you get a little bit of a glimpse into the future. So I think from that point of view, it's really important to give students a platform."
Student work was also shown at Italian design and furniture fair Salone del Mobile for the first time this year, in the form of The Lost Graduation Show.
Dubai Design Week is taking place on 8 to 13 November 2021 in Dubai. The Global Grad Show is showing online. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.