Design hero: William Knight

The Managing Director & Head of Design, Art Dubai Group has a new vision.

It’s a task most daunting: spearheading Dubai Design Week, Downtown Design and the collectible design fair Design Days Dubai. But William Knight has an enviable provenance. The visionary helped make London a world-class design destination after joining the UK Design Council in 1999 – especially in his role as Deputy Director of the London Design Festival (2004-2012). Since 2012 he has been Show Director, Design Trade Events at Media 10 Ltd., leading 100% Design and Clerkenwell Design Week. Knight took a moment to speak with us about his new role and how he’s embraced the city and its creatives.

William Knight
William Knight

What influenced your design philosophy?

The practical application of design is important to me; I’ve always done making and mending – not least with my Dad, working on our boats together. I like things that work. Secondly, design as a force for good; I relish the fact that my industry and professional focus shows how design can be better – design is a progressive community to be part of. Thirdly, aesthetics. This one took a while to develop: my wife – who has all the design qualifications in our house – has taught me so much about aspects of design I’d not previously valued.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Getting to really know the design scene in Dubai to the point where I can confidently talk about it. It’s also a pleasure! I’m meeting multi-dimensional and extremely talented people, and they’re really engaged with Dubai Design Week, and the potential of Dubai as a truly creative city.

What is most surprising about working with designers in Dubai?

In Dubai, the multi-layered context to design here is really interesting; links to the great design hubs – London, Milan and New York – are very strong but regional, national and local layers are added to this to create a unique mix.

How has success in London helped you navigate the Dubai scene?

The key things are to absorb the widest points of view and express what makes one destination important through the perspective, talent and output of hundreds.

What should the world know about Dubai’s design scene?

Dubai has a global reputation as a fast-moving, ambitious city. One of our tasks is to combine that with the commitment to quality, creative thinking and emerging design thinking that exists here; the foundation of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) is a strong example of that, as is d3 and what it will contribute for years to come. These are the headlines, but there are so many parts to Dubai’s design story: the job the Design Week has it to tell them all.

Who are your top two favourite designers or architects?

Always a tricky question, as it never boils down to two – but today, let’s say Jasper Morrison for his stripped-back, consummate product design; and Oki Sato / Nendo for his spellbinding yet prodigious output.

Where do you find design inspiration in Dubai?

My inspiration tends to come from public spaces; some of the best in Dubai include City Walk, DIFC, Emaar Square and Kite Beach. My favourite is probably Al Khazzan Park, designed by Cultural Engineering; it’s a real gem in the middle of the city.

What can we expect at Downtown Design and Design Week?

There is a lot to reveal, building on the strong foundations laid over the last couple of editions. We’re introducing some interesting new components, for all varieties of audience. Watch this space!