where do designers live
Image by Marco on Flickr

Every year, newly-minted designers — whether they’re architects, graphic designers, or those who work in industrial design — emerge from beacons of higher education with their eyes set on the U.S. cities that have traditionally been the leading employers of people in the industry: New York and Los Angeles. But as businesses move to less-expensive cities, and more and more creatives go it on their own as freelancers, are those two really the be-all, end-all for design work?

CityLab’s Richard Florida wanted to know, so he did some searching.

“To get at this, I worked with occupational data provided to me by the labor market data and research firm EMSI to study the design sector nationally and identify its major geographic clusters and locations,” writes Richard, who found several surprises in the EMSI data.

“While it is commonly assumed that the media and fashion mecca of New York or the movie capital of Los Angeles have the leading design clusters, they actually came in second and third, respectively. San Francisco is the nation’s leading design capital.”

Seattle came in fourth in the category of overall designers compared to the national average. When adjusted just for self-employed designers, tech-and-innovation-heavy cities likeSan Jose, Austin, and Minneapolis showed up with high numbers.  New York and L.A., largely considered to be the hotbeds of design work, were even lower in number with this consideration.

And the “fly-over” states? Hardly lacking in designers.

“Graphic design, by far the biggest segment of designers, had a far less coastal orientation than you might expect. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul tops the list of regular employed designers…perhaps driven by its long-standing strength as a center for marketing and advertising. San Francisco was second and New York third, followed by Chicago, Salt Lake City, Denver, San Jose, and Kansas City, home to Hallmark,” Richard explains.

The takeaway of the study is fairly simple: As it becomes easier for designers to work remotely and for themselves, they’re finding it less necessary to work from expensive, crowded urban centers like New York City, even if that’s where the headquarters of many of their employers are still located. Which is, of course, one of the best parts about being in a creative field — the flexibility to live wherever you want.

Want more? You can see maps of where designers live, as well as find out how EMSI gathered this data, on CityLab.