The 5 Best Cities for Graphic Designers

The thing about the graphic designer is that every company needs one—but not necessarily in an office down the hall. After all, every company has a look and a feel and—more literally—a logo. But these are the sorts of things that evolve over years, not from 9 to 5. Advertising agencies, image-conscious corporations and digital media outlets–these are the kinds of firms that bring graphic designers on board full-time.

“Having worked in various cities as a designer, I find that it really just depends on the client you are working with more than the location you are working in,” said iPartnerMedia’s national creative director Karolyn Masters, who is based in British Columbia and serves many American clients. “More often than not these days, you end up working with clients not in the same city as you. That’s the beauty of technology these days.”

Telecommuting aside, graphic designers’ median salary, cost of living, and location quotient are highly dependent on where they work. These are the three important metrics that ValuePenguin used to determine what U.S. cities are the best places for these specialized professionals to call home (more on our methodology below).

The 197,540 designers employed in the U​nited States in 2014 earned $50,670 on average, or an hourly wage of $24.36, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After reviewing more data from 347 cities, we found that life as a designer varies in more than one way.

Of the 347 cities under consideration, these five earned our best score, comprising the factors of median salary, cost of living, and location quotient. Four of them are situated on a coastline and all five ar​e​—or are near—a major city. Life as a designer is different in each of them, but altogether, life is good.

San Francisco​, California​
For graphic designers, this is the city of extremes. The highest annual average salary ($77,940) and the highest cost of living–and it’s not even close. In fact, the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City is approached only by its sister cities of the Silicon Valley in these categories; the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara triumvirate, home to some of the country’s most imposing companies and promising start-ups, ranked seventh overall (see below). But the more northern Bay Area is alone at the top, where there are also 3,030 jobs, plus countless freelance opportunities. A handful of the world’s best firms operate at least a satellite office in San Francisco. In the Bay Area, it’s also clear that employers, from small to the likes of Adobe, are hunting for versatile designers trained or experienced in the emerging fields of mobile products and user experience.

New York City​, New York​
The center of design on the East Coast has 52 percent more graphic design jobs than the next most-concentrated city we studied, Los Angeles, which has 9,600 gigs. While not quite as expensive as northern California, it’s 68 percent more expensive to be New Yorker than to live in the average state. Of course, average isn’t a word that fits in the Big Apple. This is the city that is probably more often the subject of design than it is the source. As a result, New York is where many designers are either starting out or achieving senior status; media giants like Time Inc. and national retailers are seeking managers and directors while farming some of their design work out to entry-level newbies or in-house freelancers.

Bridgeport, Connecticut
Like the other four cities among our top five, Bridgeport registered a top-10 location quotient, a metric that points to the availability of employment. In this part of southwest Connecticut, whose data also covers the cities of Stamford and Norwalk, graphic designers earn an annual average salary of $69,750, or 58 percent higher than the average of the 347 cities we compared. Bridgeport also enjoys being with 25 miles of Yale University’s second-ranked program for aspiring designers.

Framingham, Massachusetts
With just 420 graphic design gigs, this Massachusetts city seems like it sneaked into the top five–and it did, thanks to the country’s fourth-highest annual average salary ($68,900). The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area of the state checked in on our list at No. 20. Framingham, meanwhile, is home to both freelance designers and independent firms like Levine Design.

Los Angeles​, California​
Los Angeles, whose data also comprises that of nearby Long Beach and Glendale, actually has the lowest annual average salary among these elite five, at $57,500. There are actually five California cities ranked within the top 15. Given the presence of Hollywood, many of L.A.’s design jobs are at companies like Watson Design Group, which have done award-winning work in designing for the movie industry.

See how the top 30 cities rank, plus insights from graphic designers on their training and what life in the city is really like for them, from Value Penguin.