Meet the Design Capitals of the World

Seoul, South Korea is one of the world's design capitals.
Seoul, South Korea is one of the world's design capitals.

In 1957, twelve professional design teams from around the world joined together to form the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design. Now known as the World Design Organization (WDO), this group has grown to include more than 140 design associations from forty countries, with an estimated membership of 150,000 designers worldwide.

WDO is a non-governmental group which seeks to promote and improve international industrial design by encouraging its member organizations to produce more efficient products and services, streamline their businesses and industry practices, and expose their home communities to systems and experiences that will improve the environment and human society. Communication and collaboration between design associations at the international level is highly encouraged.

Holding Special Consultative Status with the United Nations, WDO works to promote and uphold the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by making changes and carrying out global appeals and initiatives which aim to improve culture, the economy, and quality of life for individuals and nations around the world. One of its major undertakings is World Design Capital (WDC), a designation given every two years to a city that uses industrial design to generate positive impact on its economic, cultural, and social environment. Each WDC designated city hosts a year-long program of events and showcases highlighting their innovative and sustainable urban policies and design accomplishments.

6. Torino, Italy - 2008

The city of Torino, Italy became the first World Design Capital in 2008. In this inaugural year, more than 340 events, initiatives, and projects were held or launched in the city. The overarching goal was to rise to prominence as a city utilizing cutting-edge design techniques to address urban challenges. Local designers and urban planners established relationships with design centers in Barcelona, London, Singapore and Norway, as well as personal relationships with eighty preeminent designers from around the world.

Torino's year as World Design Capital brought about many positive changes in the city's design infrastructure. Through events and related publicity, Torino gained new investors, brought renewed attention to the city, and set up a model of public and private networking that continues to affect administrators, businesses, educators, and citizens alike.

5. Seoul, South Korea - 2010

Photo credit: DiegoMariottini /

Seoul, South Korea became WDO's second World Design Capital in 2010. With a theme of "Design for All", Seoul demonstrated its ability to implement lasting and long-term changes in economic, social, and cultural development through urban design. Workshops and events encouraged urban planners and designers alike to focus on creating a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere throughout the city, while also meeting the needs of Seoul's growing population. City dwellers participated in the festivities by submitting items for the WDC Citizens Design Competition and the Children's Creativeness Camp, held on Children's day.

Notable projects included the creation and establishment of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, which has become an iconic landmark in South Korean urban design. The city continues to implement policies which bring it closer to its goal of being a visitor-friendly and ecologically-minded city, and hopes to inspire and influence other major cities throughout the world.

4. Helsinki, Finland - 2012

Helsinki, Finland was chosen to be the third World Design Capital in 2012. With the theme of "Embedded Design", Helsinki focused on innovative ways of using design to meet the daily needs of its citizens. Two thirds of its population participated in WDC activities. Brand identity workshops were held in Helsinki and Shanghai, fostering a sense of openness and producing hundreds of graphics created by a diverse international population.

Keeping design at the forefront of its city development, Helsinki launched Design Driven City, an innovative two-year program, following the end of its WDC year. This initiative included the creation of a hotline linking city employees to design consultants, and the promotion of 'design agents', an informal group of people seeking to improve communication and encourage collaboration between disparate groups.

3. Cape Town, South Africa - 2014

In 2014, Cape Town, South Africa hosted a variety of events as the fourth World Design Capital. The first African city to receive this designation, Cape Town spent its year as WDC raising awareness about urban planning and encouraging problem-solving through design with a goal of establishing a culture of city improvement and improving daily life for all citizens. Citywide initiatives included the creation of an open data portal, a waterfront development project and a design policy conference.

More than 460 projects were launched, creating an atmosphere of positive change which is likely to influence the city for years to come. Cooperation and communication was encouraged, with over two thousand citizens participating in forty workshops spread across 80 of the city's 111 wards. Locals and designers worked together to create and improve city parks, public art, and commercial infrastructure at the neighborhood level.

2. Taipei, Taiwan - 2016

Taipei, Taiwan achieved the designation for World Design Capital in 2016. Its theme of "Adaptive City -- Design in Motion" celebrated all the ways a crowded city with limited resources can adapt to the needs of its citizens, reinvigorate its urban landscapes, and improve the overall quality of life. Over the past fifty years, Taipei has addressed these needs by designing a state-of-the-art transit system, specialized medical facilities, and an innovative cultural infrastructure that has adapted to the changing needs of its growing population.

As World Design Capital, Taipei designers addressed four key issues that the city faces today: health and quality of life, ecological sustainability, urban regeneration, and smart living. The city government invited designers to participate in policymaking and held a series of courses in "social design thinking" to help city officials systematically analyze these issues and solve problems of urban infrastructure and planning. On a grassroots level, Taipei hosted World Design Capital events to encourage all citizens to take a more active role in the city's evolution. City communities, schools, businesses, and government administrators alike were challenged to jointly participate in efforts to promote urban innovation as the city evolves.

1. Mexico City, Mexico - 2018

Mexico City has been designated World Design Capital for the year 2018. The city aims to blend its robust history and culture with new and innovative urban design programs. With an eye to regeneration in lower-income districts throughout the city, Mexico City's year as World Design Capital will include thought-provoking activities intended to engage artists, designers, city administrators, and the general public. Current projects include improved citywide health, communication and peacekeeping programs, as well as grassroots movements such as bike and ride sharing, urban gardening, parks, and playgrounds.


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