The Best Places for Graphic Designers to Live [The U.S. Edition]

Posted on October 20, 2014 | Updated on August 29, 2022

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. Raleigh, NC

Although the pay is lower in southern states than northern ones and other coastal cities, don’t overlook the possibility of North Carolina. The competition may be lower and you’ll still find big cities, such as Raleigh’s population of 469,968 people. The average salary sits under $50,000 but that may be all you need to live comfortably in the area.

Companies hiring for graphic design may include brands such as Lenovo, Capitol Broadcasting, Deloitte, and Labcorp.

9. Miami, FL

If you adore the sun and don’t mind humid summers, Miami is an excellent choice for graphic designers. You’ll gain the advantage of a metropolis while also being near the beach. The art scene is large and diverse in the city, with many Latin-inspired pieces of art. You’ll find inspiration for your own designs everywhere you turn. Gain access to digital-friendly marketing agencies, of which there are hundreds.

You’ll be close enough to try to draw for Disney, if that’s a dream of yours. The taxes are low in the state, which means you can freelance with Miami as your home base and keep more of your income in your pocket.

8. Chicago, IL

Chicago made the list because it’s friendly to multimedia artists. If you enjoy bringing your designs to life with animation but also love a good 2D design, then consider moving into the hub of multimedia heaven. Filled with art galleries, museums, and everything cultural, it’s a natural choice for those who are open to different specializations in graphic design.

Some of the 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 just start out, buy a home, and set down roots. It’s a central location, making it easy for you to travel anywhere and visit family in other locations.

There are some issues with crime in areas of Chicago. If you feel a bit uncertain, refer to an area crime map for details. Make sure you move to an area of the city you feel safe in. Better yet, live outside the city and commute in on the train.

7. District of Columbia (D.C.)

Not a state, but its own entity, even the government needs designers to put out pamphlets and update websites. Designers earn anywhere from $44,000 to $89,000 per year in D.C. You’ll find opportunities at law firms, universities, and with the government.

Look to companies such as Amtrak, Capital One, and Lockheed Martin for additional job opportunities. Although D.C. graphic designer jobs pay particularly well, it didn’t rank higher on our list due to the higher cost of living and issues with transportation into the city.

All things considered, it would be an excellent place to relocate for your first design job. If you love history, you’ll be surrounded by it. You’ll likely make connections that will allow you to network for many years and even strike out on your own eventually.

6. Boston, MA

Zippia recently listed Massachusetts as a state with high pay for graphic designers. Professional designers in MA make approximately $58,553 per year, with salaries varying depending upon location. Boston is a thriving city filled with lawyers, 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, you’ll find plenty of work in a variety of industries in this thriving, historic city. A few of the listings on job sites include working for the Museum of Fine Arts and companies such as Puma.

5. New York, NY

Of course NYC makes the list. It’s considered a highly creative and innovative city filled with several museums and galleries, like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Agora Gallery, to name a few.

For graphic designers, New York has opportunities in companies like Ralph Lauren, Aéropostale, and CBS as well as plenty of other designers, publishers, and even upscale restaurants.

It’s the place to go when you’re just starting out. You can freelance, seek traditional employment, or attend any number of design schools. NYC has an average graphic designer salary of about $48,500.

4. Los Angeles, CA

L.A. is another typical design hub with a location quotient of 1.52 and high employment opportunities from companies like Forever 21, Creative Circle, and Fox Broadcasting.

Los Angeles is truly 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 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!

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.


  1. Chad Reid on January 20, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    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.

  2. Marie on March 8, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Hey New York rocks! Find more reasons to work and live in New York here:

  3. Tony Loughran on May 20, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Starting salary of $30K and $32K in NYC and San Fran? Maybe in 1985.

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