Choosing Where to Live as a Graphic Designer


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.

On March 27th 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annually updated Occupational Employment Statistics (OES). Why is this important you might ask?

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?

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13 thoughts on “Choosing Where to Live as a Graphic Designer

  1. I found this article about selecting which city to live in very interesting and relevant to what my future is about to bring to me. My plan as a fashion major has always been to get a job in New York City and live and support myself on my salary. Of course I have heavily considered the costs and standards of living but I have never actually seen averages of numbers or what statistics would say about living in this city. I understand you are getting paid more to live in a higher standard of living but it is scary to think that a well respected and decently paid full time job could possibly not be enough to support yourself. Knowing this and coming to realize what expenses might be as crazy as it may seem it still all seems worth it to follow my dream to live and work in New York City.

  2. Phil H says:


    It is always worth following your dreams, no matter what others say. However, being informed of the realities of what that dream may cost you can only go to further that dream and make it a reality. I wish you the very best in your endeavors.

  3. It is really smart to have such a insightful survey before you choose where to live for your job. When I am doing job hunting, I didn’t consider where is the better place for such a “niche” topic and I definitely want to take average salaries and cost of livings into consideration!

  4. htroxell says:

    I found this article about choosing where to live based on salary, living expense, the economy, etc. very eye opening. Generally, I think people only consider which location will get them the highest paying salary or where they will easily be able to be employed. It is interesting once living expense is factored in, how much less of your salary you will be receiving. It is almost better to relocate to somewhere that pays maybe not quite as much but has a lower cost of living. In the long run you will be making more money than a more expensive city to live in.

  5. Emma Sottosanti says:

    I found this article to be extremely helpful. I am an advertising major and though I am only a freshman, I constantly think about where I will want to live in the future. When the time comes to decide, this article has given me many insightful ideas for narrowing it down! I would change my mind about a city if I found out that my salary would only be a little higher than my cost of living. Understanding these factors is what I think will now help me think of a solid place to live in my future.

  6. I think I’m older than most of the respondents… I’m 40 and have been involved in graphic design for 24 years (designer, printshop manager, marketing, sr. designer, publishing specialist, etc…) I’ve moved about 35 times and I think I’m ready to settle out west (loved Boise). Looking for cities out west for art director or creative, or social media marketing that are beneficial for my career goals…

  7. Yes! Finally someone writes about nightclub handbook.

  8. Heya! I understand this is kind of off-topic but I had to ask.
    Does managing a well-established blog like yours require a large amount of work?
    I’m completely new to operating a blog however I do write in my diary daily. I’d like to start a blog
    so I can easily share my own experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for new aspiring blog owners.

    Appreciate it!

  9. JJ says:

    Why the heck Framingham? I used to live there and I had to move into Boston for jobs

  10. i myself live in san jose and make the average salary on here. it does suck, i pay 1200 for a small studio, school to pay for and everything else is expensive, sure im not broke but in comparison, my salary isnt that much.

  11. […] San Francisco, CA Salary: $69,190 Adjusted for cost of living: $27,749 That’s over $41,000 you don’t really “take home.” Check out the article for more! […]

  12. Marie says:

    I think New York could be a wonderfull place to work! I wrote more reasons to go here:

  13. cool stuff. Now I would like to contribute as well by sharing this cool site with downloads, that personally helped me find some beautiful and easy to tweak. take a look at

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