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Design Ecosystem in Porto

Gianmarco Caprio

Writer and editor at Phase with a fondness for photography, typography, design and travel.

Portugal's 2nd Biggest City May Be Its Real Design Hotspot
Article banner: Porto's skyline. Photo by Matt Roskovec.
Porto, Portugal's second-biggest city, often gets overshadowed by Lisbon, the country's capital. But this lack of attention towards the northern city in favour of the more famous Lisbon may be underserved. Let's find out why.
Porto: In Lisbon's Shadow?
It shouldn't be a surprise that Porto – Portugal's second-largest city, famous for being the birthplace of Port Wine – is often overlooked due to Lisbon – the country's capital and a major tourist hotspot – getting all the attention.
But in recent years, the word about Porto has definitely got around, which has led to a 'facelift' and a new visual identity aimed at promoting the city towards potential tourists and new residents. This strategy seems to have paid off, as Porto's visitors – as well as those who decide to relocate after a visit – have been growing.
The State of Design in Porto
Despite the city not being the country's cultural and economic centre, Porto has a thriving design scene, and it can be argued that it is Portugal's real design hotspot.
As it's often the case, especially in Western Europe, the country's capital isn't automatically the place where new ideas and innovation originate from. This is, for example, the case of Italy, where Milan is both the economical and cultural drive of the country and not its capital Rome.
As a testimony of Porto being a design city in its own right, Portugal's second-biggest city has been hosting its own design biennale, called Porto Design Biennale, often stylised as just PDB.
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The kermesse, which takes place both in Porto and Matosinhos – a city located in the Porto District – launched in 2019 and did not take place in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. But the event made a comeback this year, and for its second edition the theme was Alter-realities: Designing the Present:
How can we make and prototype together, reveal, critique and amplify Alter-Realities in order to reorientate ourselves towards futures where trust in each other is restored, where regeneration not destruction is evident, and where we find a new relationality between us and Others?
We are tired of real, imagined or manipulated multiple crises. Inaction deepens our weariness, blunts our intellect, dulls our bodies and erodes our souls. We need to re-make worlds, re-animate ourselves and forge new relations while rejecting unsustainable hegemonies and divisive ideologies. Designing in the present can show us how to live better despite times of contagion and crisis.
To address our challenge, we build on the first edition of the Porto Design Biennale by developing four interrelated themes.
— Porto Design Biennale curators (portodesignbiennale.pt)
The PDB is organised by esad–idea, the research center of ESAD (Escola Superior de Artes e Design), Porto's Art and Design College.
Aside from organising the Porto Design Biennale, they are also behind the events taking place at the Casa do Design (House of Design) in nearby Matosinhos and are the publishers of many books dedicated to design theory and practice in Portugal.
Design Education in Porto
The aforementioned ESAD, the city's college of art and design, is without a doubt the go-to place in Porto to study design.
ESAD’s project is founded on three pillars: education, improvement, and innovation. Training students to participate and compete nationally and internationally, keeping up with the growing demands of understanding the role of design and the arts, and widening creative, critical, and technological competencies.
— ESAD's mission statement (esad.pt)
At ESAD you can enroll in four different types of bachelor's degree courses, namely fashion, interior, product and communication design, while for master's they are the same minus fashion design.
ESAD participates in the EU-funded Erasmus student exchange programme, which lets its pupils study at another institution in a country of the European Union, as well as allow students from partner universities, academies and colleges to come study at ESAD.
Cafès and Coworking Spaces
You find yourself in Porto and need to catch up on some work, or deliberately went there for a time to work remotely? Sem problemas, as the Portuguese would say — there are plenty of excellent laptop-friendly cafés as well as co-working spaces in this northern Portuguese city to satisfy all needs.
Let's start with the latter category: arguably the best coworking spaces which have operations in the city are WOW (Work on Wood), Typographia Cowork and Land Porto Coworking. At this three spots you can find something for each type of personal preference and professional need.
If you, on the other hand, prefer the laid-back atmosphere of a café, then the ones where staying for several hours won't make the personnel raise an eyebrow are the following: Manna, Esquires Coffee and Fabrica.

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