Cities are hailed as creative and technical hotspots. In short, they’re perfect hubs for graphic designers. Figuring out which are the best places for graphic designers to live takes a bit more research, but is well worth the added effort.
Each city has its strengths and weaknesses, making some more suited for job opportunities than others. Here’s a list of the best places to work in graphic design — in the United States — counting down from number 10.
10. Denver, CO
Colorado is one of the highest-paying states in the U.S. for graphic designers, with average salaries starting at $64,000 as of 2022. The “Mile High City” is a fantastic place for young people, whether you’re attending one of Denver’s top-notch art and designs schools or you’re a young professional starting your career.
One big advantage of living in Denver is the amount of nature nearby. Colorado is a great place for designers who like hiking — the state has 15 different mountains with 54 unique peaks, more than any other state in the country.
Denver’s location quotient for graphic designers is 1.30, meaning there are more than average job opportunities here. Major brands with hubs in Denver include Amazon, Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp, and Coors Brewing Company. There are also dozens of world-class independent design studios and marketing agencies that can provide exciting job opportunities.
9. Miami, FL
If you love the sun and don’t mind humid summers, Miami is an excellent location for graphic designers. Miami has a thriving, diverse art scene particularly for Latinx artists and art styles. You’ll find inspiration for your own designs everywhere you turn. Miami is home to plenty of independent design and marketing agencies, with great beaches and nightlife for the weekends.
One particularly important employer in this state for graphic designers is Walt Disney Studios. Nearby Orlando is home to Walt Disney World and the Florida Disney offices. Universal Studios also has a major theme park and offices in Florida, offering two dream job employers for designers to apply at. The state taxes are relatively low in Florida, as well, which can be helpful for freelancers.
8. Chicago, IL
Chicago is a great city for multimedia artists. If you enjoy bringing your designs to life with animation but also love a good 2D design, then consider moving to this multimedia hub. Filled with art galleries and museums, Chicago is a natural choice for those who are open to different specializations in graphic design.
Top companies in Chicago you might want to send your resume to include WB Games, Warner Brothers Entertainment Group, Digital Kitchen, AGA Digital Studios, and Calabash animation.
Although you’ll still pay big-city prices, the lower Midwest cost of living may be particularly attractive to those looking to get started in the industry, buy a home, and set down roots. Chicago is centrally located, making it easy for you to travel anywhere and visit family in other locations.
7. Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon is known for its artsy culture, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best cities for graphic designers today. Oregon is one of the highest paying states for graphic designers, with average salaries ranging from $64,000 to almost $88,000 per year.
There are plenty of great job opportunities here, as well. Many major brands have offices or headquarters in Portland, including Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Microsoft. Portland is also home to a great arts culture with events and festivals happening throughout the year such as the Wild Arts Festival and Art in the Pearl. Top graphic design programs can be found at Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
6. Boston, MA
Professional designers in Massachusetts make approximately $58,553 per year, with salaries varying between cities. Boston is a thriving creative hub with a vibrant arts community, a prestigious university, and a wide variety of businesses.
Whether you choose to strike out on your own as a freelancer or you prefer to work for a marketing agency or art studio, you’ll find plenty of work in a variety of industries in this thriving, historic city. Job opportunities can include roles at leading organizations and businesses like the Museum of Fine Arts and Puma sportswear.
5. New York, NY
New York City is a highly creative and innovative city filled with museums and galleries, like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Agora Gallery.
For graphic designers, New York has opportunities at companies like Ralph Lauren, Aéropostale, and CBS as well as hundreds of other designers, publishers, restaurants, and other businesses.
It’s the place to go when you’re just starting out. You can freelance, seek traditional employment, or attend any number of design or art schools. NYC has an average graphic designer salary of about $48,500.
4. Los Angeles, CA
L.A. is a notoriously vibrant design hub, with a location quotient of 1.52 and high employment opportunities in the arts. LA is also near Burbank, California, a neighborhood known for being the West Coast home of Disney. About half an hour south is Anaheim, California, where Pixar’s offices are located. You can also find graphic design opportunities at other film studios in the area, such as Warner Bros.
Los Angeles is famous for its top design programs in schools like Otis College of Art and Design, Loyola Marymount University, and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. These programs help students become more tech-savvy with animation and web design experience. This improves their chances of employment not just in California but on a national level. Salaries on average start at around $44,000.
3. Austin, TX
This city comes in at number three because it’s one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Its projected economic growth rate through 2016 is 6.1 percent, and it has a little-changing unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.
It’s also rapidly increasing in technology-driven companies and employs some of America’s highest-paid animators. As an added bonus, the cost of living is below the national average and a graphic designer’s average salary is $41,000.
2. Minneapolis, MN
Known as a marketing and advertising center, Minneapolis has a graphic design location quotient of 1.7, more than any other city. Some of the top advertising agencies are based in Minneapolis and have clients like Target, Amtrak, Best Buy, American Express, and Dairy Queen.
Minneapolis also has higher employment levels and an average graphic design salary of about $51,000, a fair amount to live in this medium-sized city. With plenty of culture and marketing positions for those interested in this particular field, Minneapolis is a great place for graphic designers.
1. San Francisco, CA
This city has just about everything. It’s home to top companies like Microsoft, Gap, and Williams-Sonoma, and it’s the top-paying metropolitan area for graphic design, with an above-average graphic design salary of $58,500.
It also has some of the best graphic design firms in the world. For example, Landor Associates reinvented Federal Express as FedEx and created their logo. This company started with one man’s vision in a small San Francisco apartment.
The city also dominates in self-employed designers with an average freelancer salary of $54,000, but the flexible nature of freelancers makes opportunities highly competitive.
What really makes San Francisco number one is its atmosphere. Graphic designers can thrive on the music, art, architecture, public parks, organic food, and tightly knit community. It’s actually been ranked as one of the happiest and healthiest cities in America.
If you’re looking to enter the graphic design scene, it may be a good idea to check out these cities. Think your city should have made the list? Tell us why in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 20, 2014 and was updated on May 1, 2023 to provide readers with more updated information.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.
I’ve heard a graphic design friend recently refer to Detroit as surprisingly up-and-coming for design. I believe the term she used was the “Wild West for Designers.” Probably has nothing on these cities, though.
Hey New York rocks! Find more reasons to work and live in New York here: http://www.theseventeenth.com/blog/why-a-graphic-designer-would-like-to-work-in-new-york
Starting salary of $30K and $32K in NYC and San Fran? Maybe in 1985.
These places are for graphic designers but their living costs are very expensive.