Perhaps the most important decision you will make after choosing a career in graphic design is where you plan to live and work. For some, the choice is easy; for others, it’s a big world out there and choosing where to put roots down can be a difficult task. Should you relocate for a higher salary? Move to wherever the lowest unemployment is? Or pack your bags for specific design colleges and universities? Putting aside personal preferences such as friends, family, weather, and geographic amenities, let’s take a look at what makes sense when deciding to move to a new city.
These estimates are the nation’s most reliable source for the number of people employed in specific occupations and areas, and the amount of wages people earn. Now more than ever, getting the biggest bang for your design-buck is essential for living a successful life. Why chase a large salary if your rent eats up most of it? Why move to a location you love only to find the advertising base is lack luster and career opportunities are scarce at best—especially in this economy.
If a high salary is your foremost concern, here are the top five paying cities for graphic designers:
1. San Jose, CA $72,820
2. San Francisco, CA $69,190
3. Framingham, MA $63,920
4. Washington, DC $63,670
5. New York, NY $63,480
That sounds like a lot right? The salaries above are much higher than the average graphic design salary of $53,400 in Columbus, OH. Think again.
According to Sperling’s Best Places, a reputable cost of living calculator, you would have to earn an equivalent of $103,088 in San Jose, CA to match the cost of living in Columbus, OH on $53,400. That’s more than $30,000 the mean design salary in San Jose. Surprised?
Here’s the list when adjusted for cost of living:
1. San Jose, CA $42,552
2. San Francisco, CA $27,749
3. Framingham, MA $40,077
4. Washington, DC $46,641
5. New York, NY $31,774
In reality, you pay to be paid. Of all those salaries, not even one comes close to reaching the real amount of money you’ll be taking home had you chosen a city with a lower cost of living and one that has a well-paid graphic design industry. This is why it actually pays to do a little research before moving anywhere. Here are some important factors to consider when deciding to move for a career in graphic design:
Economy: There are no guarantees in today’s rollercoaster job market. Although the economy itself may be out of your control, choosing cities with economies that are diverse with many industries will help stifle recessions when they inevitably do happen. This means you will less likely be out of a job and more likely be working on a new client.
Cost of Living: As witnessed above, just because a city pays a creative well, doesn’t mean he or she will be living a better quality of life, on the contrary, in most cases it is just the opposite. Take time to research specific areas and the cost to live in them. Find the price of living expenses such as housing, food and water, as well as taxes, transportation and other costs.
Workforce: Creative careers flourish in some locations but are hard to find in others. Does the city offer opportunities for artistic expression? Find a city that has a high number of workers in the creative class. Many times the amount of job opportunities coincides with the size (and living expense) of the city. Striking a balance between the two is key.
School: Does the city have a recognized and accredited design school or program? The network of connections and relationships made while attending a design college or university will increase your chances of finding future employment where the school is located. This resource of contacts will be invaluable if you are just starting out.
At the end of the day, where you live and work is ultimately up to you. Whether you find joy in a big city like Los Angeles, or in a smaller place close to family, taking risks and discovering yourself will only make you a better graphic designer. Did you move to city to practice graphic design? Have you ever regretted a decision to leave a location with hopes the grass would be greener somewhere else?