All design degrees aren’t created equal, nor are all design careers -- especially when you can study and work in design nearly anywhere in the world. One of the most exciting places to launch a design career is Hong Kong. Here’s a closer look at why Hong Kong is such an exciting destination for design studies, along with one program which can help you hit the ground running as a designer in this vibrant and cutting-edge area.

Hong Kong, innovation, and design

There’s often confusion about the difference between creativity, innovation, and design. Perhaps Design Council Chairman Sir George Cox put it best in saying, “Creativity is the generation of new ideas/new Intellectual Property (IP); Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas; Design is what links creativity and innovation.”

Design has also been hailed as “the language of innovation.” With organizations constantly endeavoring to innovate new products, services, and processes, design plays a pivotal role in supporting and leveraging innovation into real outcomes. Product design consultancy Gill Research & Development Limited asserts, “It shapes ideas to become practical and commercially attractive propositions for businesses and their customers.”

Because creativity, design, and innovation are intertwined, in countries where one thrives, the others often thrive, too. There may be no better example of this than Hong Kong. For starters, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most innovative countries/regions, according to the Global Innovation Index 2020. It has climbed from 14th place two years ago to 11th spot now. What’s more, Hong Kong is also recognized as a center of design excellence in Asia. Currently, it’s sixth in the World Design Rankings.

A safe and welcoming destination for design students to study, work, and live

If you’re looking to work in a creative field, Hong Kong is a world leader. It has long been heralded as an excellent destination for international students. In 2019, it was declared the 10th “Best Student City” by QS. Reasons included its stunning scenery, prosperous job market, excellent universities, relatively affordable cost of living, international student population, and exceptional life and culture. Which brings us to our next point: wellbeing. According to 2018’s Human Life Indicator, Hong Kong leads the pack when it comes to the wellbeing of its citizens.

If you hope to stay and work abroad after you complete your studies, Hong Kong is also a wise choice. Many multinational companies are headquartered in Hong Kong, where jobs are widely accessible to English speakers.

Lastly, in our current times it is impossible to talk about international travel without acknowledging COVID. While Hong Kong is known for its welcoming visa and immigration policies for non-local students, it has also distinguished itself as a “safe haven” during the pandemic with very few cases and deaths. So while you may be subject to strict testing and quarantine when you enter the country, you will find campuses active and open there.

A design degree that makes the difference

One leading center for design education and research in the city is The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design, or PolyU Design. PolyU Design’s emphasis on human-centered design is one factor which sets it apart. “While we appreciate the highest ideals of art, we believe in the creation of human-centric products, brands and services, which are relevant to industrial, commercial and community needs now and in the near future. Our approach provides a robust research foundation in design to support these ideas,” the school explains.

Perhaps there’s no better embodiment of PolyU Design’s commitment to creativity, innovation and design than its home in the Jockey Club Innovation Tower (JCIT). Designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, the building “creates a new urban space that enriches the diversity of university life and expresses the dynamism of an institution looking to the future,” ArchDaily enthuses.

PolyU Design’s accolades go on and on. The school has consistently been ranked as a top design school by both Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings and by BusinessWeek magazines. It’s also had the distinction of being the only Asian school included on Business Insider’s World Best 25 Design Schools list.

If you’re thinking of studying design in Asia, PolyU Design’s international Master of Design (MDes) --  which offers studio-based full-time and part-time programs in Design Practices, Design Strategies, Interaction Design, International Design and Business Management and Urban Environments Design --  is an especially exciting opportunity.

Since 2004, PolyU Design has conferred nearly 1,000 MDes degrees to  graduates from nearly 40 nations, building its reputation locally and globally. And because MDes is recognized by the University Grants Committee (UGC) as one of the four programs providing in-depth postgraduate training in an area of strategic importance for Hong Kong, fellowships in the form of significant tuition subsidies are available for meritorious students.

Bharati Das, who enrolled in a PhD degree at PolyU Design after moving to HK from India for her MDes studies, says, “I believe the course has been very helpful to me as regards developing new skills and understanding diverse cultures. Every semester had new courses which involved exposure to both theoretical concepts and practical solutions. The mixture of technology, design, and business helped me sharpen my skills. The classes on cross-cultural management, multi-disciplinary projects, and live projects helped me understand the theories and practices in relation to design thinking. Further, working with a diverse group of students from different classes enhanced my perspectives on the concepts and ideas.”

Das also has rave reviews for her PolyU Design professors. “The faculty members are from diverse areas of specialization, who are very helpful and willing to walk that extra mile for their students. As an international student in this 1-year program, the opportunities and possibilities have been limitless,” she asserts.

PolyU Design’s Hong Kong location has been a central part of Das’ time as a student there. “PolyU has given me ample opportunities to explore new cultural landscapes and learn about different business processes in Hong Kong, South Korea, among others,” she says.

Indeed, MDes grads have diverse career options prospects depending on their goals thanks to the degree’s focus on cultivating the advanced skills and processes that work in rapidly changing environments. Graduates of the program go on to in-house jobs or jobs at design firms in a wide range of functions in design, such as product design, interaction design, spatial design, and branding. Some have broadened their professional fields and taken up roles in project management, research and teaching. Industries that have hired MDes graduates include fashion, retail, hospitality, financial services, healthcare, toys, consumer electronics, information technologies, advertising, and research and development.

It follows that Das is also enthusiastic about the value of a PolyU degree in the local job market. “Hong Kong offers great opportunities for designers. If not a designer, the courses in MDes will definitely help one develop the skills in relation to design. I have always encouraged my friends to look into the MDes courses for building new paths towards career advancement,” she says.

“I needed a challenge,” MDes graduate Kaleb Cárdenas Zavala adds. “And I saw this master as the opportunity to write about my perception of design and refine some of my abilities in strategic design. I appreciated the freedom and self-oriented studies. I enjoyed being instructed to so many resources, and being able to invest my time however I thought was more relavant for my education and orientation. Additionally, PolyU is a great environment to relate yourself to other professionals, and even, other areas of design.

“Hong Kong, as a city was one of the main reasons why I saw MDes as a suitable option. I wanted to be in Asia, and Hong Kong was a place that inspired me. Hong Kong is the epicentre of Asia. This city is where the action is and where design can thrive on making disruptive and positive change. Luckily the program that PolyU offers also suited my expectations, budget and aspirations.

“For me, I wanted to get a job after I graduated, therefore, I made connections since day one. Networking is essential in this city and discipline. MDes and Hong Kong as a city are ideal for that if you're looking to work here as a designer. I highly encourage other designers to look at MDes as a platform to jump in Asia's most driving city and ecosystem.”

Today’s design students are tomorrow’s problem-solvers who not only imagine a better world, but also play a critical role in bringing it into being. If you’re looking for an international design career, there’s no better place than Hong Kong and no better program to set yourself up for success than PolyU’s Master of Design.

Meet alumni and staff virtually at any of its admissions events.

Article written in association with The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design.