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As the first affiliated international AIGA chapter, AIGA Middle East was launched last summer by Mo Saad & Leen Sadder, Lebanese graphic designers based in New York City. After the launch party at Coop d’etat rooftop in June 2013, the duo formed a Beirut Operations Team who would be the crew on the ground, creating a format to be duplicated in cities all over the region once the initial roots were established and AIGA ME was in full swing. Professional and student memberships for AIGA ME will be launched by the end of this year but, in the meantime, the Beirut team’s mission is to build the network, spread the word about AIGA and its importance in our part of the world, and start (and continue) a conversation about design. To avoid any confusion, this is not a promoted post. In full disclosure, I am part of the AIGA ME Beirut core team which is made up of a handful of young professionals who volunteer during their free time to make this organization work.
Back in March of this year, we launched Morning Toast, a breakfast think tank series. Held every two months at a local cafe, Morning Toast brings together 7 to 8 designers on a Saturday morning to talk about a design issue over coffee. Each MT is hosted by a professional who acts as a moderator for the discussion. They don’t lead or preach, they just keep everyone on topic during the allocated 2 hours. Usually, who the host is will hint as to what the Toast may be about. Themes for each Toast are announced the morning of, leaving attendees in the dark. This is not an evil surprise tactic, but meant to allow for unprepared and unpracticed rhetoric. In other words, it’s an informal get-together with potential for formal action later on. Conversation about design begins and continues because guests are put in contact with people they may not have met in other contexts. As for the 7-8 people that attend? It’s completely open: first come, first serve. There are a limited number of spots; if you snag one and confirm, you’re in.
Dar Bistro & Books in Hamra, Beirut
Commonly known for supporting local initiatives, Dar seemed like the right place to launch the first string of Morning Toasts. Located between the AUB Alumni Association offices and the Central Bank, Dar is a popular spot for book and coffee lovers. It’s also a great hideout for work or chitchatting with friends as long as you don’t mind the sound of a coffee machine in the background. During our partnership, Dar was generous and gracious. They signed on for a 6-month period (3 Toasts total), offered complimentary breakfast to the MT guests, and created a space where strangers could have an open and unrehearsed discussion. On top of that, it’s photogenic and very Instagrammable: the perfect ingredients for filming the first MT webisode.
Cutting down a two-hour rich conversation into two-minutes just didn’t seem fair so we are now exploring the possibility of converting our Toasts into bi-monthly podcasts. This way, interested listeners can get a feel for the dynamic on the table and know the whole story. At the conclusion of each breakfast, comment cards are collected so that we can make every Toast better based on the feedback of those who experienced it first-hand. Because this is still a new initiative, there is room to improve and learn from what works and what doesn’t. After all, that is the job of the Beirut Operations Team – treating Beirut as the testing ground for what will eventually be a regional network of creative professionals.
MORNING TOAST VOL. 1
HOST: HANI ASFOUR, POLYPOD
THEME: THE FUTURE OF DESIGN IN THE REGION
MORNING TOAST VOL. 2
HOST: BANA BISSAT, BLOGGER OF BANANAPOOK.COM
THEME: DESIGN IN THE DIGITAL AGE
MORNING TOAST VOL. 3
HOST: KHAJAG APELIAN, MAAJOUN STUDIO & KRISTYAN SARKIS, KRISTYAN SARKIS STUDIO
THEME: DESIGN AND ARABIC TYPOGRAPHY
This is not the only attempt AIGA ME has made when it comes to connecting people. Unfortunately, when finding yourself in a networking event, it always seems forced and uncomfortable. I tend to see people gravitate to those they already know and the actual networking fails to really happen. Because of this, we thought we could learn from ArabNet’s speed-networking event. For Beirut Design Week, AIGA ME started Dak Warak: a gamified speed-networking event at Coop d’etat rooftop once again, symbolically marking our 1-year anniversary. Using a branded AIGA ME Dak Warak deck of cards, people had to go find others with matching suits, colors, or numbers during each 3-minute round, or dak. Seeing that it was a card game where people could exchange business cards too, dubbing it “Dak Warak” made sense since it translates to a round of cards. You could mingle with people, drink in one hand and an actual playing card in the other. Gamification of the networking process was the added layer that made breaking the ice just a little funner. Of course, I’m sure the free beer helped too.
The next Morning Toast is set to be held on the 13th of September at The Beazbee in Hamra, our latest partner in the MT Series. Sign-ups will be open within the next few days. Dr. Yasmine Taan, Chair of the Design Department at LAU, will be hosting this one – can you guess the theme? To stay informed about MT and other AIGA ME events & initiatives, check us out on Facebook,Twitter, or Instagram.