We dove deep into the numbers and determined the best U.S. cities for graphic designers to work in.
Whether they are signs, banners, packaging, or digital displays, we are surrounded by commercial visual imagery designed by graphic designers. In this industry, graphic designers design and create graphics, fonts, shapes, colors, and layouts for advertising, logos, websites ,and other visual mediums. Graphic designers are key to helping companies, nonprofits, and governments communicate their messages and promote their brands through designs and collateral.
In the United States, there are approximately 218,000 graphic designers employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment in this industry is expected to grow by 3% from 2018 through 2028, which is slower than the average industry.
We conducted a study to determine the top 50 best cities for graphic designers in the United States. Our study examined data from 334 cities and included key data such as average pay for graphic designers, the number of graphic design jobs in each city, as well as the cost of living in each city. We also categorized cities by size in order to find the top ten small, midsize, and large cities for graphic designers.
Top Cities for Graphic Designers by City Size
This study segmented cities by city size. We considered cities based on their metropolitan statistical area populations to be small (population under 150,000), midsize (population between 150,000 to 500,000), or large (population over 500,000). Since cities that are similarly sized may share some economic or other characteristics, ranking cities by size allows graphic designers to see which cities would be best for their preferred lifestyle.
Large cities tended to be better for graphic designers, as overall, they offered dense concentrations of graphic design jobs, along with healthy salaries, partially offset by higher costs of living. Of the top 50 cities, 31 were large cities, 11 were midsize cities, and eight were small cities. Of note though, is the fact that four of the top five and seven of the top ten cities were small or midsize cities, suggesting that graphic designers aren’t solely in high demand in big cities. In fact, some of the highest concentrations of graphic designer jobs in our study were found in smaller cities like Oshkosh, WI; Boulder, CO; and Peoria, IL; pointing to the fact that graphic designers are sought after across industries and locations.
Best Cities for Graphic Designers
1. Oshkosh, WI
Oshkosh, situated on Lake Winnebago just southwest of Green Bay, is a midsize city in Wisconsin that was founded as a fur trading and lumber town. The city is the namesake for the brand OshKosh B’gosh children’s apparel, but the clothes are no longer made in the city. The city also hosts the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the NBA G League Wisconsin Herd.
Graphic designers in Oshkosh earned an average salary of $45,060, which stretches far when considering that the cost of living in Oshkosh is 8% below the national average. Additionally, there are 132% more graphic designers in Oshkosh compared with the national average on a per-capita basis. Some of the businesses supported by these graphic designers include the truck manufacturer Oshkosh, two chocolate companies, and the world’s largest airshow, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
2. Ames, IA
Ames is a college town in central Iowa just north of Des Moines. The city is host to Iowa State University and was originally founded as a railroad town. The city has numerous parks and bicycle trails along with other recreational facilities.
Salaries for graphic designers in Ames were $54,330 on average, which is just under the national average, but residents of Ames benefit from its 20% below-average cost of living. Additionally, Ames has 39% more graphic designer jobs on a per-capita basis than the national average. Some of these graphic designers support the city’s largest employer, Iowa State University.
3. Walla Walla, WA
Walla Walla is a small city in the southeast corner of Washington state. The city’s beginnings started with the establishment of Fort Nez Perce, followed by a population boom during a gold rush in nearby Idaho. In recent years, Walla Walla has revitalized its downtown, and its main street hosts a variety of small businesses such as breweries, cafes, shops and bookstores. Agriculture is an important industry for Walla Walla, and the city also has many outdoor recreation options.
Graphic designers in Walla Walla earn an average salary of $63,340 per year, which is 12% above the national average. The city’s cost of living is only 2% above the national average, while there are 52% more graphic designers per capita in Walla Walla compared to the national average. These graphic designers support the local economy in Walla Walla, which include more than 120 wineries in the city.
4. Peoria, IL
Peoria is a midsize city located in central Illinois along the Illinois River. Named after the Peoria tribe, the city is known as a good representation of whether products or themes will appeal to mainstream Americans. The phrase “Will it play in Peoria?” encapsulates this idea that if something is accepted in Peoria, then it will be adopted by the mainstream. Peoria also has a lively riverfront district that offers restaurants and live entertainment.
The cost of living in Peoria is 11% below the national average. This helps stretch the average graphic designer salary of $46,730 in the city. Graphic designers have many opportunities in the city, as there are 95% more graphic designer jobs in the city on a per-capita basis compared to the national average. These graphic designers support companies in the city such as Caterpillar, the city’s largest employer.
5. Provo, UT
Located just south of Salt Lake City in central Utah, Provo is the state’s third-largest city and the home of Brigham Young University. Easily accessible just south of the city include renowned national parks such as Zion National Park and Arches National Park. The city’s location just off of Provo Bay and Utah Lake provide additional recreational opportunities for visitors and locals alike.
Provo has a diversified economy that includes several substantial tech companies, including Vivint, Ancestry.com, and Qualtrics. The city’s robust economy provides employment for the city’s graphic designers, of which there are 119% more than the national average on a per-capita basis. Graphic designers in Provo earn an average salary of $50,010.
Top 50 Cities for Graphic Designers
The table below lists the top 50 cities for graphic designers nationwide. In addition to the ranking, this table also includes information on other factors that influence whether a city is favorable for graphic designers, as well as additional supplemental data. The data provided include the total number of graphic design jobs in a city, the city’s size (small, midsize or large), the average salary for graphic designers in the city, the city’s location quotient for graphic designers, and the city’s cost of living index.
|Rank||City||City Size||Average Annual Salary||Total Jobs||Location Quotient||Cost of Living|
|3||Walla Walla, WA||Small||$63,340||60||1.52||102|
|22||St. Louis, MO||Large||$56,430||1,940||0.96||91|
|23||Kansas City, MO||Large||$51,910||2,000||1.26||94|
|28||Grand Island, NE||Small||$45,370||90||1.41||88|
|30||Eau Claire, WI||Midsize||$48,200||170||1.36||92|
|34||Des Moines, IA||Large||$52,440||570||1.05||90|
|35||Boise City, ID||Large||$48,670||710||1.45||98|
|36||Grand Rapids, MI||Large||$49,870||1,090||1.31||95|
|40||New York, NY||Large||$68,690||21,840||1.54||146|
|41||Green Bay, WI||Midsize||$45,890||360||1.4||92|
|48||Fort Wayne, IN||Midsize||$48,970||290||0.91||84|
This study was based upon metro area level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Our study found the best cities for graphic designers using data from 334 metro areas while considering three key factors. These factors included average salaries for graphic designers in each city, a cost of living calculator for each city, as well as the concentration of graphic designer jobs in each city. We calculated a proprietary score for each city that considered all three of these factors.
Salary and employment concentration data came from the BLS’s most recent data release, reflecting May 2019 data.
1. Graphic Designer Average Salaries
The first factor in our analysis was the average salary earned by graphic designers in each city, with higher salaried cities receiving higher scores. The average salary for graphic designers nationwide was $56,510.
2. Cost of Living Calculation
We used a cost of living calculator to normalize salaries for graphic designers across places with different levels of cost of living. Because the same salary can purchase different material lifestyles in different cities, we used the calculator to ensure that salaries in different cities would be comparable. Cities with lower costs of living scored more highly in this study.
3. Concentration of Graphic Design Jobs
Our study calculated the concentration of graphic design jobs in each city using the location quotient, which reflects how many graphic design jobs there are as a proportion of total jobs in a city, compared with the national average. A higher location quotient reflects more employment for graphic designers on a per-capita basis and shows the availability of jobs in the graphic design industry in a given locale. The higher the concentration of graphic design jobs in a city, the higher a city was ranked.
1. Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Index
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics
4. US Census Bureau Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas Population Totals