10 top cities for design graduates to thrive

We list the world's best places for design grads to live, from well-established design hubs to up-and-coming cities.

With graduation season upon us, graduates everywhere are forced to make the difficult decision of where they should choose to live to embark upon the first stages of their careers. Which city will offer the standard of living and community to suits their needs, whilst also offering the best career opportunities?

If you've found yourself in this position, you'll know how difficult such a potentially life-changing decision can be. To try and make things a little easier, we've compiled a list of ten of the top cities in the world for design graduates.

01. New York City, New York

The excitement of this busy city is enough to bring graduates flocking, along with plentiful job opportunities

Of course, we had to include New York, undoubtedly one of the top cities for design graduates. The excitement of this busy city is enough to bring graduates flocking, along with plentiful job opportunities.

For fledgling designers in particular there is plenty of inspiration in terms of creative spaces and art exhibitions, not to mention NYCxDESIGN; the city's official annual event celebrating design. It's clear that the creative community here is alive and kicking.

In terms of work opportunities, the statistics speak for themselves. In 2013 there were almost 40,340 full-time designers living in New York City, and presently the city is home to around 3,880 design firms. In May this year, NYC Future created a document detailing the economic importance of the city's design sector.

It showed that 65 per cent more designers than any other city or major town in the US live in New York, and that employment at city design firms has increased by nearly 10 per cent since 2008, with architecture and design sectors continuing to grow.

02. Los Angeles, California

LA is home to a number of prestigious design schools

On the other side of the States, LA comes in second to New York as a top city for design. Home to a number of prestigious design schools - such as Harvard University Graduate School of Design and UCLA's Design Media Arts department - 24,460 full-time designers and 2,358 design firms, the city has a vibrant creative community.

Graduates might be interested in AIGA Los Angeles (which also has a large presence in New York), which supports design professionals and students in their careers. As for inspiration and networking, Los Angeles Design Festival, which runs annually, hosts a series of events around the city celebrating local and international design.

03. Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen is China's major design hub. Image © Xublake

Shenzhen might not be the first city that comes to mind as being a top location for designers, in fact it's probably safe to say that not many people even know where it is (it's situated just north of Hong Kong), but it is in fact China's major design hub.

Appointed UNESCO City of Design in 2008, Shenzhen is a young city in terms of its age (it celebrated its 30th birthday in 2010), and its population. There are more than 6,000 design companies in the city, employing more than 60,000 designers, and in 2005 the design industry here generated a not-to-be-scoffed-at US$1.9 billion.

If you're looking to delve into the creative community here, there is OCT-LOFT Creative Culture Park, which includes exhibits featuring design, photography, paintings, and animation, as well as housing a number of cafes, restaurants, and music venues.

Being one of the new, leading cities in China, Shenzhen is an exciting place to be at the moment, and it seems likely that opportunities for new designers here will only continue to grow.

04. London, UK

London's big design scene attracts graduates from all over the globe

Many graduates who have studied in any of the numerous design-related courses in this city have been wooed enough to stay here to nurture their careers. Others flock to the city from different parts of the UK and the rest of the world, attracted to London's big design scene and plentiful job opportunities. A recent article published by BBC News reported that 60 per cent of London's workforce consists of graduates.

Here you'll find plenty of creative exhibitions and (free!) museums for inspiration, as well as events like the London Design Festival; a ten-day program of around 200 events attracting more than 300,000 visitors.

05. Austin, Texas

Austin is home to the ever-popular SXSW Festival. Image © Daniel Mayer

Home to the ever-popular SXSW Festival, Austin has become a hot spot for creativity in recent years, and it's becoming a very attractive city for graduates. A young city, people aged between 20 to 29 make up over 21 per cent of the population, and it has the lowest unemployment rate of all major cities in the US. The cost of living is also relatively low, making it all-the-more affordable for graduates still finding their feet.

Unlike the large, buzzing metropolises we've listed above, Austin is a laid-back and friendly city. Due to its smaller size, it's relatively easy for people in a similar line of work to get to know each other and refer each other for jobs, making getting involved with the design community more accessible.

06. Berlin, Germany

Berlin is well known as a thriving design city. Image © A. Savin

Berlin is well known as a thriving design city. Home to the world-renowned Bauhaus, the country's capital is also its creative capital. With more than 2,400 design companies and over 1,800 employees working in the sector, the city's design industry generates an annual turnover of €420 million.

Understanding the importance of the design and creative industries to its economy, the government invests in design-related projects, so you'll find there's a lot of support for designers starting out.

Berlin is the second most popular city in the world for conventions in the creative industry, including International Film Festival Berlinale, International Design Festival DMY, Berlin Fashion Week, International Art Forum, and the IFA. And if it's more creative inspiration you're after, you won't be short of places to find it; there are creative spaces all over the city in the form of exhibition spaces, and even in restaurants, cafes, and other venues.

The atmosphere and opportunities available in Berlin attract a large number of graduates, and with 23.2 per cent of its population under 25 years old, you'll certainly find many other people in a similar situation to you in this city.

07. Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Design Center hosts many design exhibitions and seminars year around

The design industry is becoming increasingly important to Buenos Aires, prompting the local government to become very involved in supporting and promoting the industry here.

The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Design Center is one institution providing support to designers, and it also hosts many design exhibitions and seminars year around. Currently, creative industries in the city represent 80 per cent of the national total, and more than 10 per cent of the local output.

As for standard of living, you should be pretty happy in BA. The Economist conducted a survey in which it claimed that the city is the best in Latin America to live in, mostly due to its cultural scene.

08. Riga, Latvia

Riga looks set to become a buzzing hive of design and creativity. Image © David Holt

Although Riga might not be a buzzing hive of design and creativity at the moment, it seems very likely that it soon will be. Creative industries here are expected to have a significant impact on the city in terms of tourism, urban planning, and social and cultural life.

Anticipating this, the city's Cultural Department aims to create a long-term policy that will maximise the economic benefit of the creative industry in the city. The local government will be supporting small and mid-sized businesses, setting up creative incubators, and developing projects to boost the development of creative industries.

While Riga is up and coming, the cost of living here is still relatively low, making it a little easier for graduates who are just starting out. Keep your eye on Riga; we expect we'll start to see a lot of good stuff coming out of this understated city in the coming years.

09. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne must be Australia's most creative city. Image © Jjron

Melbourne must be Australia's most creative city. Here you'll find a thriving design community, reflected by initiatives such as the City Design Awards program, which provides an opportunity for the city's designers to join together, and the Melbourne Design Awards, which runs as part of the program.

For further inspiration, head to Melbourne Design Market, which has launched thousands of new products and profiled hundreds of designers since its creation. Currently there are more than 75,000 people employed in design roles in Victoria; much of them in Melbourne, where there are more than 4,000 design firms.

10. Helsinki, Finland

In 2012 Helsinki was awarded the status of World Design Capital. Image © KFP

Rated by Monocle magazine as the world's most liveable city (2011), Helsinki has a high standard of living and welfare, making it a very comfortable city to live in.

In 2012 Helsinki was awarded the status of World Design Capital, and you only have to look around the city at some of the innovative architecture to realise you're in a place lead by design. Here, a lot of emphasis is placed on using innovative design for everyday use, and the creative industry has been the fastest growing business sector. In 2007, 40,000 people were working in the creative industries within in the city, generating a turnover of around €9.6 billion.

There's plenty of opportunity for designers to get involved with the community outside their work as well. Each year Helsinki hosts around 80 festivals focusing on arts, design, music, and more, and has a Design District that is home to independent stores, restaurants, cafes, and galleries. If you haven't visited the city yet, head there in September for Helsinki Design Week B; Scandinavia's largest design festival.

Words: Samantha Stocks

Samantha Stocks is a freelance copywriter, and co-founder and co-editor of Lagom magazine. Follow her on Twitter.