10 International Destinations for Designers

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of HOW Magazine. Check out the issue to experience exciting design exercises, mindbending optical illusions, enthralling poster design work and more.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network offers a wealth of design-focused destinations around the world. Explore ten of these incredible cities and learn what makes them the perfect places for designers to explore this summer.

It’s summer, which means many fortunate creatives are venturing out to explore new destinations. And we’re here with recommendations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to help you plan your next creative expedition. It’s time to step away from the obvious design centers like NYC and San Francisco and into something a little different.

In 2004, UNESCO launched its Creative Cities Network—a selection that now includes 116 member cities from 54 countries representing seven fields: Crafts & Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts. The 19 cities that represent the design field are united by the common goal of placing design and creativity at the core of their development projects, industries and culture. UNESCO’s design cities include global heavyweights such as Helsinki, Shanghai and Singapore, as well as unexpected cities with flourishing creative scenes such as Saint-Étienne, France; Bilbao, Spain; and even Detroit.

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“Design is a creative and aesthetic solution, an agent of change and innovation, and a means of identifying new challenges and opportunities,” says Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity at UNESCO. “It encompasses a wide range of creative fields that develop new products and services including those that improve social organization and transformation. UNESCO Creative Cities can not only support people who are innovative, but can also incorporate design into their own thinking and thus into urban development as a powerful catalyst for better cities that are also more sustainable.”

The following is an overview of 10 of those UNESCO Creative Cities members that focus on design. These cities stood out to us, not only because many of them are less well-known as design hubs, but also because each one uniquely leverages the talent and ingenuity of the creative professionals who live and work there. If you’re looking for your next design destinations, these cities make for excellent additions to your travel bucket list.

Get ready to dive into a new part of the design world. But be careful—once you’re there, you might not want to leave.

10 UNESCO Creative Cities to Explore This Summer

Kobe, Japan

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2008
Population: 1.5 million

I. Hirama – GettyImages

A hub for international trade since pre-modern times—and therefore a cultural crossroads—Kobe was able to redefine its urban planning process following the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake with an emphasis on community support. In 2012, following its designation as a Creative City of Design, the Raw Silk Testing Centre was transformed into the Design and Creative Center Kobe (or KIITO), where local design leaders spearhead projects dedicated to disaster preparedness and urban development in addition to holding seminars, lectures, exhibitions and events featuring emerging design and art. More than 100 international companies including Procter & Gamble, Toys “R” Us, ASICS and Mitsubishi have headquarters in this port city, providing vast opportunities for creative professionals from around the world.

Bilbao, Spain

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2014
Population: 1 million (metropolitan area)

JT Palacio – Getty Images

Although the city has been economically and creatively progressive since at least the 1500s, Bilbao has placed particular emphasis upon deindustrialization and urban renewal since the mid-1990s, when the city’s arts community began to flourish in earnest. Home to the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall, distinctive architecture and a robust rapid transit system, Bilbao is rich with sightseeing opportunities for creatives. The city is also world-renowned for its support of creative sectors including industrial and interior design, new technologies, fashion, audio-visual tech, video games and crafts, which are represented by the Bizkaia Design and Creativity Council (BiDC), comprised of 150 public and private members whose goal is to foster an economy led by design and creativity.


UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2010
Population: 9.8 million

tawatchaiprakobkit – Getty Images

When you think of Korea, do you think of design? If not, visiting Seoul, Korea’s capital city, might just change that. Creatives will especially appreciate the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), the busiest and most historically rich district of the city, where the 86,574-square-mile infrastructure is dedicated to design. There you’ll find everything from museums, art halls to libraries and educational design facilities. Roughly 73% of all Korean designers reside in Seoul, according to UNESCO. Diverse, bustling and beautiful, Seoul is a must-visit for any designer.

Bandung, West Java province, Indonesia

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2015
Population: 2.5 million

Ali Trisno Pranoto – Getty Images

The capital of West Java Province in Indonesia hosts creative workshops, conferences and festivals to promote creativity—particularly product design and prototyping. More than half of the city’s economic activities are focused on creative pursuits, with fashion designers, graphic designers and digital media making up the majority of its economic activities. Its annual Helarfest, which launched in 2008 and is made up on dozens of other events spanning more than two months, brings Bandung’s diverse communities together to showcase their cultural and creative pursuits, and at the Creative Cities Conference hosted in the city, creatives discuss sustainable urban development and for sharing ideas. The city has supported the careers and development of an estimated 100,000 new creative entrepreneurs over the five years prior to its inclusion in the Creative Cities program.

Graz, Austria

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2011
Population: 280,000

Aleksandar Bobic EyeEm – Getty Images

The second largest city in Austria, Graz’s long-standing history of arts and culture has been recognized many times in recent years. Not only is it home two UNESCO World Heritage sites—its Historic Centre in the city’s “Old Town” and the castle of Eggenberg—it was also named the European Capital of Culture in 2003. Its recognition as an international center for design stems from its top-tier educational and research institutions, as well as its emphasis on fostering creative careers through the networking association Creative Industries Styria, which aims boost the design industry and related sectors throughout the larger Austrian region of Styria.

Torino, Italy

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2014
Population: 850,000

Francisco Goncalves – Getty Images

Originally one of Italy’s main industrial centers, Torino (also known as Turin) has become better known as a creative hub in recent years. In 2008, it was named the World Design Capital and continues to live up to that reputation. Creativity, sustainability and regeneration are at the city’s core. Torino also offers cultural exchange programs, as well as residencies, seminars and workshops with other UNESCO Creative cities. The city is brimming with museums, including the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum) and the Egyptian Museum of Turin. While you’re there, take a walking tour and enjoy the city’s impressive architecture.

Dundee, Scotland

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2014
Population: 150,000

John Hamilton EyeEm – Getty Images

About a century ago, Dundee was known as an economic powerhouse, according to UNESCO. The city was a center for textile trading and shipbuilding. And although mass production has dwindled, the creative economy of Dundee has done nothing but boom—especially for the gaming community. Both “Grand Theft Auto” and “Lemmings” were created in Dundee, and “Minecraft” for console is manufactured there today. The city has also been home to famous comic book artists like Oor Wullie, Dennis the Menace and Desperate Dan. Major bonus? Dundee is home to Scotland’s first design museum: the V&A Museum of Design.

Nagoya, Japan

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2008
Population: 2.2 million

Zeshan Anjum EyeEm – Getty Images

Nagoya has been a design hub for nearly three decades. With 49 universities, it’s a popular gathering spot for renowned engineers from across Japan. The city has organized plenty of major design conferences, including the World Design Exposition, and is home to the Design Centre NAGOYA. The center is “intended to promote the design sector through several initiatives including the ‘creator’s shops,’ which support the work of young designers,” according to UNESCO. Not to mention, the Nagoya City Museum is a must-see.


UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2015
Population: 1.7 million

Steve Daggar Photography – Getty Images

Hungary’s capital is the center of the country’s creative industries. The city works closely with its inhabitants to help improve the quality of urban living and is often exploring new was to promote awareness and improvement within its public spaces. Budapest is home to the Smart City Lab, which gives innovators the opportunity to work one on one with citizens and public institutions for the betterment of urban planning. If you have the chance, check out Design Week Budapest, a 10-day festival with more than 100 programs that emphasizes the economic role of design.

Puebla, Mexico

UNESCO Creative Cities Member Since 2015
Population: 2.5 million

toniamarie – Getty Images

The fourth largest city in Mexico, Puebla’s creative community represents 7.26% of the overall state GDP and 5.4% of the jobs in the economically active population. The city invests heavily in creativity: Over the course of five years prior to its Creative Cities Network membership, Puebla invested roughly $1,250 billion in more than a thousand creative projects focused on urban design, creative entrepreneurs and designers. Through its flagship city program, known as the Puebla Capital of Innovation and Design, multidisciplinary leaders plan initiatives to improve quality of life, cooperation and business practices. It is also the site of the annual International Festival of Brilliant Minds, or La Ciudad de las Ideas, which celebrates innovative ideas in design, science, technology, politics, education and business.

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