Top Design Capitals of the World

Top Design Capitals of the World

6 min read

In an ideal scenario, designers would be living in their very own utopia.

A world where the clients don’t constantly ask for changes and refrain from saying “it will only take a minute to fix.”

But, back here in the real world, what would an ideal place to live for designers look like?

The city you live in can often be an incredible daily source of inspiration. A lively city and vibrant community goes a long way in recharging creative batteries. Of course, the ability to easily connect and collaborate with other creatives is very important. Even more important, perhaps, is a city where you don’t need to cry every time you see your bank balance due to the high cost of living.

Creativity runs deep when it comes to designers. Whether you’re an illustrator or graphic designer, there are a few things that are absolute must-haves when it comes to where you live.

We evaluated factors like the size of the freelancer community, creative agency offices, international fairs,  meetups, conferences, salaries, local job market for designers and cost of living. Now, we have compiled a list of the top places to work if you’re a designer.

Here is our list of the 2021 Design Capitals!

New York, USA

new york skyline
Photo by Patrick Tomasso
New York City isn't just about its iconic skyline; it's one of the best places in the world to unleash your creativity.

It is home to some of the biggest ad agencies in the world: JWT, Leo Burnett, DDB... not to forget design studios like Firstborn, Huge and Pentagram or digital firms like The Barbican Group. Finding a job or freelance work will not be an issue. You will never get bored and find friends easily in the many design conferences like NYC x Design.

Do you want to be inspired? The MoMA, the Met and The Whitney are at your service. The community keeps growing thanks to traditional schools such as the Shillington Graphic Design School, Parsons Design School, The Pratt Institute, the School of Visual Arts and more.

London, U.K

Photo by Eva Dang
Almost 50% of all the close to 2 million creative jobs across the UK are based here. London is still an undisputed epicenter of design despite competition from other cities like Manchester and Edinbrugh.

Although typically regarded more as a financial capital, this city has a lot to offer to designers. Steeped in cultural history and flooded with lots of world class music, art, fashion, sport, tech, film and of course design firms, opportunity is abundant.

The London Illustration Fair is an annual artist-led illustration and graphic design fair that brings artists and buyers together in a unique environment. There are also recurring social events full of learning and networking like the London Doodle Socials. For newcomers, this useful guide can help make life much easier.

However, you might want to check your tolerance for more than average rain and high cost of living.

Boston, USA

boston city center
Photo by Alex Iby

Boston is very rich in terms of its history and culture. It’s a modern metropolis with an attractive job market and is home to many creative studios and agencies. CGI Interactive, 451 Marketing and Allen & Gerritsen, are just some brand names that have a presence here.

Boston is unique in a way as it serves as an intersection where the tech boom and artistic background of the city nicely converge.

You could go from a UX Design MeetUp to a date at the Institute of Contemporary Art or Museum of Fine Arts and hit a charming pub all in a day’s work. For example, the annual Boston Design Week is just one proof of what this city has to offer!

Berlin, Germany

berlin alexanderplatz
Photo by Claudio Schwarz

Affordable, creative and free-spirited. These 3 descriptors are often associated with Berlin. Unlike some other major cities on this list, Berlin is still affordable for young professionals. This design capital has all the charm and none of the downsides of having to deal with a high cost of living area.

Berlin has a very rich history which is often portrayed through art. The East Side Gallery is one such example where incredibly culturally important murals are painted on the remains of the fallen Berlin Wall. These types of artistic gems are embedded within this city, making it unique.  Berlin has a reputation worldwide for being the hub of avant-garde art, techno music, gourmet street food, innovative design and start-ups.

There is a large demand for talented graphic designers from the creative agencies, large enterprises and veteran start-ups looking to expand their teams.

Forward Festival Berlin, Beyond Tellerrand, UX Camp are just some of the exciting conferences that will keep you entertained and inspired throughout the year.

Dublin, Ireland

dublin main street
Photo by Diogo Palhais
Dublin has an amazing vibe. This city has a charm party thanks to the generosity and supportive nature of the design community who are always willing to extend their time, energy, and expertise to newcomers.

People here exude commitment and passion for what they do while simultaneously willing to share that experience with the tight-knit community. Creative giants Publicis and Ogilvy both have offices here alongside several other firms.

Over 2,500 people attend the mega design and creativity conference Offset.  Creative icons like Massimo Vignelli, Sir Peter Blake, Paula Scher, David Carson and more have given talks and led sessions. The only drawback is that this city can get pricey.

Toronto, Canada

toronto skyline
Photo by mwangi gatheca

There is a thriving design scene in Toronto. Adidas, Google, eBay, Spotify, and Microsoft all regularly contract agencies like Jam3 for their digital platforms. Saatchi and Saatchi’s Toronto office is also packed with clients. Similarly, freelancers get their fair share of the pie.

The design oriented Meetup group #DesignTO has close to 2,600 members and regular events related to everything creative as well as workshops on promoting inclusion within the design community.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm city enter
Photo by Adam Gavlák
This is a city where the medieval meets the ultra-modern. The nexus between the two is something that keeps creative people excited to go to work everyday.

An amazing and unique quality of this city is the flat workplace hierarchy which limits personal egos and enables everyone to be able to express their opinions freely. May the best design prevail is the underlying ethos. You can ask designers for yourself at these conferences.

The appeal of the work-life balance, quality of life, healthcare and childcare can lure even the most loyal designers from other cities. Although it can get expensive, many freelancers and designers say it is more than worth it.

San Francisco, USA

Photo by Joonyeop Baek

San Francisco is one of the best places to be for graphic designers. The tech scene with the rise of the internet startups has been a blessing for all kinds of designers. From small exciting startups to giants like Google, everyone is here. People have naturally gravitated to this design capital thanks to its tech hub image and large demand for designers. The pay reflects this. For the higher cost of living, salaries range from a midpoint of $75,600 and can go well past $116,500 for specialists at large companies and well-funded start-ups.

The “San Francisco Bubble” is very real. You can easily lounge around with coworkers at Dolores Park on a sunny midweek afternoon. The funny thing is, you wouldn't even think twice about how extraordinary that might be.

The San Francisco Design Week is an annual staple which is attended by people from all around the world. Leading Design is another event that attracts experts who lead design teams and people who cultivate design culture within organisations.

You also will not get bored of the various Design Meet Ups ranging from Graphic Design and  Product Design to UI Feedback or Illustrator get-togethers.

These were the cities that we believe are the Design Capitals of 2020. We hope you enjoyed this list! If you want to check out the full list of Design Conferences that are happening all around the world!

Please feel free to ask questions, give feedback, and share your ideas with us! We are always happy to connect with members of our community.

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