So you’re a graphic designer. Maybe fresh out of school and looking for a job—any job—to fulfill your dreams of designing, branding, or logo-ing for a company that appreciates your artistic voice and stylistic choice. Maybe you’ve got ten years as a full-time designer under your belt, but it’s time for a change in scenery. Regardless of your situation, it’s never a bad idea to start thinking ahead: Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I’m not trying to be esoteric, nor am I asking that clichéd interview question; I literally mean where. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. has 197,540 employed designers, and they all have to live somewhere. Andrew Pentis of ValuePenguin recently published Best Cities For Graphic Designers, an analysis that included data from 347 cities. To complete the study, researchers focused on what they believe to be the most important metrics in determining the best locations for designers in the U.S.—median salary, cost of living and location quotient.
Among Pentis’ top five naturally come big name creative cities such as San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles followed closely by other major metropolises like Washington DC, Seattle, Atlanta, and Chicago. Nearly all of these cities house at least one of the “best firms for graphic designers” according to Graphic Design Degree Hub. But if giving up your car and learning how to navigate a subway system sounds strenuous, or the thought of including a comma on your rent check every month wigs you out, ValuePenguin’s list offers a number of under-the-radar cities for designers like you.
5 Surprising Creative Cities for Graphic Designers
5. Cincinnati, Ohio
Population: 297,517 Jobs: 350
Median Salary: $51,200 Cost of Living Index: 85
Great chili, flying pigs and the Cincinnati Reds. What more could you ask for? Cincinnati is home to a number of design firms that seem only to grow. With the revamping of Over the Rhine, start-ups galore are bringing young professionals back to this historic city. Here you’ll find Rockfish Digital, Hyperquake, Jack Rouse Associates and many more.
4. Trenton, New Jersey
Population: 84,913 Jobs: 350
Median Salary: $57,900 Cost of Living Index: 106
Trenton, NJ is full of unique design firms. Among others, EFK Group and Three Bears Communication stand out the most. EFK group works with the belief that “creativity is an agency’s most valuable asset because it’s the rarest.” Three Bears Communication approaches clients with a unique three-part creative process (hence the Goldilocks reference).
Looking for jobs in one of these creative cities? Check out our job board to see who’s hiring!
3. Bethesda, Maryland
Population: 61.907 Jobs: 1,010
Median Salary: $66,490 Cost of Living Index: 157
One square mile of downtown Bethesda is home to three of its most successful design firms. FCI Creative has been producing “award winning work…for over 30 years,” and Comella Design Group just celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015. A little bit newer to the game is Streetsense. Founded in 2001 with the tagline “We are an uncommon collective,” it’s already worked with names like Starbucks and Chipotle.
2. Warren, Michigan
Population: 134,873 Jobs: 1,910
Median Salary: $56,090 Cost of Living Index: 95
A short drive north from Detroit, located east of Lake St. Clair is the city of Warren, Michigan, home to Designers + Partners, Compass Graphx and Design Source Media. On the weekends make sure to check out the farmers market located in the City Square.
1. Boulder, Colorado
Population: 103,166 Jobs: 630
Median Salary: $53,100 Cost of Living Index: 145
Beautiful mountains, blue skies and booming design firms—all things you can find in Boulder, CO. From the Flatirons to the beloved Pearl Street shopping scene, it’s easy to fall in love with this Rocky Mountain town. Firms to look for? SIDFACTOR, Oblique, Moxie Sozo and Studio Signorello. Clients of these firms include names like Vans, Bettye Muller, Nike and Naropa University.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the design field for a while, it’s essential for you to nurture your career. The editors at HOW have assembled the Graphic Designer’s Resource Pack, a collection of career resources designed to assist you in many aspects of your career. Check it out.