This is a guest article contributed by Sam Toman.
In a recent New York Times piece, the editors asked a panel of talking heads to speculate on where Earnest Hemingway would go if he were alive today. Their answers were predictably boring – Berlin, London and Bruges (!?). The implied criteria were based on a perception of Hemingway’s personality and needs. The panel decided he would need an arts scene, enough urban action to keep him inspired, as well as a certain old-European cultural charm.
As the labour marketplace for talented designers becomes more global, and more designers can stay gainfully employed without leaving their living room, a similar question gains relevance. As such, where that living room is becomes important to a designers quality of life. So, what is the best city for a designer to live? Using the New York Times model, let’s stick to Europe. From there we can create a list of criteria that a designer would need to both succeed professionally and be happy in a city.
Cost of Living. This includes, rent, food, entertainment, transportation.
Employment Opportunities. As much as most jobs can be done with a reliable internet connection, the human connection is truly the key to the best paying jobs. A thriving marketplace for design jobs and an entrepreneurial climate is key.
Inspiration. Lots of cities are cheap or have jobs. But how many of them are multi-cultural? How many have a thriving arts scene with galleries, concerts and events? These are the intangibles that, although no designer, Hemingway would have sought.
With this in mind, and in no particular order, let’s get started.
Cost of Living: Berlin has long had the reputation for being the cheapest western-European capital. Though more expensive then they were in the 90s, Berlin still has an abundance of flats for a fraction of the price of most other European cities. Thanks to the proliferation of discount grocery stores, food in Berlin is quite affordable. Ample bike-lanes and a precise public-transportation system make the city a breeze to navigate. And of course… German beer! It is cheap, delicious and can be consumed without reprisal on city streets.
Employment Opportunities: These same cheap rents and solid infrastructure, combined with an educated and international workforce have transformed Berlin into Europe’s emerging high tech hotspot. Networks like Silicon Allee have emerged to chronicle this rise. With entrepreneurs flooding the city there is a rush on talented and creative people. Graphic Designers and Web Designers are in high demand. Combine this with Berlin’s history of design (from Bauhaus to street art) and you have a fertile climate for exciting employment.
Inspiration: With a long, and at times tortured, history Berlin is once again finding itself at the forefront of the European stage. It’s mayor once declared that Berlin is, “poor but sexy.” Today, this is only half true. A multicultural meting pot has emerged here that lends itself to experimentation, style and the kind of adventure that more established cities cannot duplicate. And now, thanks to increased job opportunities, people have more money to experiment with.
Cost of Living: We know what you are thinking… “where?” But hear us out. As the heart of Europe-leaning Western-Ukraine, Lviv is what Krakow and Prague were decades ago. This medieval gem of a city has yet to cash in on its charm like those other two places, but this plays right into the hands of job hunting-designers. Lviv might be the most affordable city of it’s size in Europe (pop. 800,000). The economic crisis devastated the Ukrainian currency and prices here are a quarter of what they would be elsewhere in Europe. Plus, Lviv has all of amenities you would find in a major European city. Time is ticking on Europe’s best kept secret. Lviv will play host to the Euro 2012 football tournament and, by then, the secret will be out.
Employment: Thanks to it’s position outside of the EU looking in, Lviv has become a hotbed of outsourcing. Companies looking to cut costs have set up shop here to take advantage of affordable and educated labour. These companies need experienced and English-speaking project leaders. The such salaries are comparable to those of the west, but in a cities four times as cheap.
Inspiration: Much like Krakow and Prague, Lviv was never bombed during WWII. This has left the city with a similar medieval charm. Vibrant squares, magnificent churches and friendly people all conflate to make Lviv a truly wonderful place. This is where Hemingway really would have lived if he were live today.
Cost of Living: Though it was once a part of the Soviet Union, Estonia’s capital Tallinn is not necessarily a cheap place. But nor is it expensive. Prices are comparable to Berlin, and significantly lower than London or Paris. The small tight-knit city centre is easily accessible from everywhere and acts as a focus of city life. Flats, when you can find them, are affordable and spacious. Food is also quite inexpensive, though nothing spectacular.
Employment: This is where Tallinn really excels. Known as E-stonia for its easy embrace of technology, Start-up and entrepreneurs have flooded into the Baltic country. Have you heard of Skype and Kazaa? Both began life in Tallinn. But when you talk to Estonians they will tell you that while they have the skills, especially in web design, they sometimes lack the creativity needed for truly memorable projects. This is where you as a designer can excel. Not only that, but Estonians are more comfortable in English and most Western-Europeans. After all, when only 900,000 people speak your language, you tend to learn other ones.
Inspiration: Much like Lviv, Tallinn has a rich medieval history that is reflected in it’s untouched city centre. Tallinn is like living in a fairytale with it’s castles and churches and city walls. There are touches of German, Baltic, Scandinavian culture in Estonia that come together to make create an atmosphere that can be appreciate even when the sun disappears and the temperature drops in the winter. To top it off, Estonians are curious and friendly when it comes to foreigners. You will find many people receptive to your work.
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What other design hotspots around the world would you recommend?