Design Ecosystem in Prague

 { 🇨🇿 } – Prague: a blossoming design city bang in the middle of Europe

Prague’s Old Town. Photo by Anthony Delanoix.

Czechia’s capital has become an increasingly attractive base for a lot of creatives. Its affordable prices, coupled with a young and agile environment, a perfect location right in the middle of Europe and an ever-developing cultural scene has attracted many people working in different design niches.

There are few cities belonging to the former Eastern Bloc – the countries which were politically aligned with the Soviet Union – that underwent a rapid transformation on the scale of Prague. The Czech capital, although relatively small in size, especially compared to those of neighbouring countries such as Germany (Berlin) and Poland (Warsaw), is a very fertile ground for all sorts of creatives.

Is There Such a Thing as Czech Design?

Many people would be surprised to know that there is actually a very active design community in Czechia and that “Czech Design” has become a little bit of a label/brand in itself. Considering the very small size of the country, it is very surprising to find out that it is home to such a rich and diverse scene. What characterises Czech design is its capability to preserve its characteristic features in all its different applications—you’re equally likely to find as much of this distinctive Czech touch in graphic, furniture and homeware design. 

Contemporary Czech design is, first and foremost, quirky. It never gets itself too seriously, and that is exactly what makes people fall in love with it. You will always find an element of irony in the design artefacts coming out of this tiny Central European country.

The State of Design in Prague

The Czechs are no stranger to beautiful and iconic design. Back in the 1960s – when the country was still in a political union with Slovakia and was known as Czechoslovakia – the company ÄŚKD Tatra manufactured what was to become one of the most – if not the most – iconic tram designs in history: The Tatra T3. Over the next following years, the T3 became a common street sight in much of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, and can still be seen nowadays in cities like Moscow, Kyiv and Prague itself.

Tatra T3 tram in downtown Prague. Photo by Bence Kiss-Dobronyi.

A popular medium of expression for designers active during 1960s and 1970s Czechoslovakia were – wait for it – matchbox labels. The style of the illustrations, together with the colour palette used, turned a simple, everyday object such as a matchbox into a collector’s item. Over time,  these matchbox labels have become something of a collectors’ item, and are nowadays sought-after by design aficionados.

A collection of Czechoslovakian matchbox labels. Courtesy of Kindra Murphy.

But it was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which subsequently brought down the Iron Curtain which had divided the Capitalist West from the Socialist East for nearly 50 years, that design really had a chance to blossom in Czechia.

Today, Prague looks way different than 30 years ago. Although it is still not on par with other design capitals, the city has its own design week—Czech Design Week—which takes place in different locations around the city centre, usually in either April or March. While the event is still in its embryonal stage, the festival, now in its sixth year, has been bringing an increasingly higher amount of people to its lectures, workshops and exhibitions. Additionally, for the twentieth year in a row Designblok – Prague International Design Festival has been taking place. Founded back in 1999, this is a larger-scale event compared to the relatively-new Czech Design Week, and brings together many professionals for an event which lasts usually a little less than a week.

Brno, Czechia’s second city located in the south of the country, has been successfully organising its very own International Biennale of Graphic Design, which has been taking place for over five decades now. Its last edition, held from May until August last year, has been the most successful to date and is a statement to the importance of this event in promoting and celebrating graphic design’s role in the visual arts. As Czechia is a rather small country, the trek down to Brno from Prague is only a mere two-hours car drive, therefore it seemed fitting to include such an important event in the conversation about the larger Czech design ecosystem.

The Design Community in Prague

Prague’s design community is definitely not one of the largest ones can find in Europe. Despite that, it is on the rise and the increasing amounts of events catered to different design niches, including digital design.

There city’s design community is based around a few key events and meet-ups, which take place quite regularly and attract many individuals, studios, agencies and firms involved in the field. One such event is the Czech Design Systems Meetup, the brainchild of the Czech Design Systems Community. These meet-ups take place monthly in both Prague and Brno, and, according to the organisers, their goal is “to support the communication about design systems”, by bringing together front-end engineers, UX and visual designers and QA testers.

Czech Design Systems Community meet-up. Photo by the organisers.

Design Education in Prague

There are a few options available to those wanting to pursue a design education in Czechia’s beautiful capital. The Faculty of Informatics of Masaryk University, one of Prague’s main higher education institutions, offers degrees in graphic design and related disciplines with a focused on multimedia through its Studio of Graphic Design and Multimedia. In the school’s words:

Digital and printed media follow the same rules in creating graphic design, but overall digital technologies are opening a lot of new possibilities in communication with a consumer. Thus students assignments can be interpreted in new connotations and various approaches can be applied. Students knowledge of informatics and programming is a great advantage.

Although Charles University – one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions not only in Czechia, but the world – does not offer educational programs in the fields of design, they are promoting the development of a register of artistic performances, called “RUV”, which has the goal of collecting information about art and design artefacts created in Czech universities.

Another option is to check out the curricula offered by the School of Art and Design at Prague College. This private institution offers a multicultural environment and a multidisciplinary approach, with the goal of “creating our own special kind of graduates – curious, questioning, connected, flexible, and passionate about what they do.” Apart from the traditional BA and MA programmes, Prague College offers an interesting master in Future Design, which caters towards those who are committed to the exploration of their own’s or the client’s ideas with an ongoing critical approach.

Places to Work from in Prague

In a city like Prague, there is obviously no shortage of cafĂ©s where one can just go and spend as much time as decency allows working on a laptop. Among those, there seem to be some who are favoured by a great deal of people, such as Pracovna, located on Vlkova street in Ĺ˝iĹľkov, one of the city’s liveliest and most popular districts. Here, one can accompany his coffee, juice or tea with a wide array of vegetarian or vegan meals, prepared using fresh ingredients. Pracovna – which can be translated as “study room” in English – unsurprisingly (given the name!) offers plenty of co-working space, which is located at the back of the establishment.

Another excellent option, conveniently located right around the corner from Pracovna, is Café Pavlač. In this cozy café, located on Víta Nejedlého street, you will find many different coffee options, including Vietnamese (!), along with all sorts of alcoholic- and non-alcoholic beverages. Breakfast is served from 10 in the morning until well past into afternoon,  and if you’re not a breakfast kind of person, there’s a lot of mains ready to satisfy your cravings as you work away at your laptop.

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.