IDIA “Design Thinking

Since the dawn of time, architecture has been re-telling the story of humanity on the changing walls of history; starting from the cave writings of the stone age, to the imposing Gothic churches of medieval Europe which challenged gravity with unprecedented heights of stone and glass.

View our Design Process

Ask yourself this; what would be the point of designing a building or a compound, only to have it torn down and modified by the people leasing it? At IDIA, we make an effort to know our clients and understand their true needs, in order to build something that can competently satiate it.

Once we have an understanding of the client’s background, taste, needs and inclinations; we can define an idea to anchor our design. Why is this place needed? What makes it useful? And above all, what makes it absolutely irreplaceable for its inhabitants?

With a core definition in place, our team of professionals brainstorm its potential, examining it in terms of design, sustainability, feasibility and implementation until a spark is born.

When the cloud of creative inspiration settles, a design direction is finally born.
Sleeves rolled up and pencils
at the ready;

Our designers, conceptualizers, architects and everyday visionaries put the design direction to paper and stone. Like every other artwork, a vital part of architecture is its on-ground expression, and its reception from the people that will give it life and lace it with memories.

Successful design is defined by
its scalability

What good would a community complex be if it has an expiry date? Trends come and go, but timeless design adapts to its surroundings. At IDIA, we believe that time is a vital factor in architecture, so we make sure that our projects are launched ready to fulfill their lifetime potential.

Where do creative ideas come from?


This is a modified excerpt of a talk, given by our CEO Ehab Mokhtar, to an audience of young entrepreneurs, architects and startup enthusiasts at the Creative Summit, documented and reproduced into text format. Inspired by the true spirit of the Creative Summit; Dr. Ehab Mokhtar chose to share his personal story, and what he likes to call the “Aha!” moment.

Where do creative ideas come from?

I remember that day, back in 2000, when I was tasked to design the Coptic museum patio.  It was a straightforward request. The place directed me to redesign it the way it needs to be designed, and all I had to do was listen.

And then there was the staircase.

The staircase stood in a central part of the Coptic museum, where everything went back to its source, and it needed to be completely redesigned.

And I just couldn’t do it.

One day, we had an urgent phone call in the morning. “The minister will be visiting,” it is showtime, and boom! That was just what I needed.

All my frustration and desperation before that call turned into a clear idea. I suddenly knew what to do with the staircase.

Reviewing the original design, I realized that the answer was staring me in the face the whole time; “the place has no circles in it! It’s a classical design!”

So I decided to introduce a circular staircase, and they loved it. It remains one of my favorite designs, to this day.

I had a similar experience many years later, in 2011, when one of our sister companies was participating in the Index Dubai Fair. I had designed a booth and made sure it was assembled in Cairo before its shipment to Dubai for review.

I arrived a couple of days earlier, and explored the city as I waited for the team who was supposed to re-assemble the booth. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t make it because their travel papers had not been finalized.

That was the worst day of my life. We only had 48 hours left to the exhibition, and we needed a skilled team to finish the design. I didn’t even have its drawings on me.

Handling the situation, I hired a couple of Indian workers and re-assembled the booth based almost entirely on memory, and a couple of pictures I had on my phone.

This situation repeated itself throughout my life. The same situation, in entirely different details. A deadline would be arriving at the speed of light and I’m stuck with nothing to do. Yet, somehow, I manage to escape that scare and create something that lasts.

Of course, some situations aren’t so easily solved. Who here hasn’t been stuck in one of those before?

In my approach to design, I was always interested in the topic of decision making and problem solving. Reading in this domain has greatly opened up my mind and introduced me to some of my own personal heroes, such as Daniel Khanman, Gary Klein, and the artistic writings of David Kelly and Tim Brown.

In his pioneering book, “Seeing What Others Don’t”; Gary Klein explains how we get insights, and how we reach that prized “AHA!” moment. In his approach, he developed what he called “The Triple Path Model”, where he identified the different mindsets that different humans experience when they reach that special “AHA!” moment.

Those three paths are: the Contradiction Path, the Connection Path and lastly – my favorite – Creative Desperation.

Creative Desperation only happens when we are cornered. It is a natural act that can only be produced when we feel trapped, usually within a very tight timeline and with limited resources. As a matter of fact, Gary Klein’s research was based on true life stories from firefighters, chess masters and mountain climbers as they faced a situation that had them in its claws, a time when they absolutely had to come up with something to change that situation into a good one.

But the question here is: How can anyone be ready for that kind of situation? If it is natural, how can we make it happen?

I have found the answer to this in Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a problem solving technique that helps us come up with creative solutions. Its three main characteristics are its source of strength; it is human-centric, it helps us see the problem from different angles, and it enables us to fail early enough in our projects, so we can avoid failure in advanced stages.

The Design Thinking process has many different models, its simplest one is this: first, you must define the problem.

A problem is half-solved when it is defined. How else can you ask the right questions? When we identify the different stakeholders and their different needs, design comes together. After all, when the design is human-centric, it automatically solves their problems.

And secondly, to ideate.

Design Thinking helps us open up new horizons where walls block the sun. It helps us see possibilities through different people, and their different needs, and it saves us from the status quo; that place where good ideas go to die. From all the possibilities, Design Thinking presents us with several solutions.

Lastly, there is the prototype.

Fast prototyping is one of the most important aspects of Design Thinking. It helps us see our mistakes soon enough to fix them, before you introduce your content to the market. This step is a cornerstone in creating unique content, and it helps us meet people in the middle as we introduce the prototype and wait for their feedback. In this, it remains human-centric.

I use Design Thinking to create ideas and concepts in architecture, product design and even in my very own business plan and strategy, and it has never failed to increase my mental response in difficult situations. Design Thinking has improved my chances and my team’s chances to get ourselves un-stuck in the face of terrible deadlines.

In tribute to Design Thinking, we use it in all of our workshops.

In fact, we use it on our students in all of our workshops.

During our workshops, we assign our teams in different areas and ask them to create an innovative product. As they struggle to solve the problem we’ve created for them, they always produce results that surprise even them. This has happened everywhere we held our workshops, and specifically on all the different teams we put through Creative Desperation, whether it was AUC business school students, a random management team in an industrial company, or even construction engineers. People are always the first to break their own limits, and expand their horizons in the process.

The question I will leave you with today is this; can Design Thinking help normal individuals get “un-stuck”? It has, after all, helped thousands of companies and organizations throughout the world to create unique ideas and successful products.

It has always worked for me, so I will tell you this: Design Thinking is all the help you will have. All you need is a moment of Creative Desperation, and if it doesn’t help you solve the problem, at least it will help you get stuck with style.