The Biggest Hotspots for Design Jobs: New York, San Francisco … and Columbus?

Published on Jul 14, 2014

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco. As you’d expect, these cities have huge clusters of design jobs. But would you guess that Minneapolis-St. Paul has almost the same density of graphic designers, architects, and other design-oriented jobs as L.A.? Or that Detroit and Columbus, both heavily concentrated with designers, are among a select group of metropolitan areas with an increasing specialization of design workers?

Richard Florida, well-known for his research on the creative class, recently showcased EMSI’s data on design jobs in an article for The Atlantic’s CityLab. Florida summarized national job trends for designers and looked at the leading cities, based on location quotient, for several design occupations.

Nationwide, design jobs declined 3% from 2009 to 2013 (-1% for employees of established firms and -6% for self-employed workers). This post-recession dip is part of a long-term erosion of designers in the workforce. There were 11% fewer designers in 2013 than in 2001, a loss of 79,000 jobs. (The notable exception: The number of people who work on the side as designers, not as primarily self-employed but as freelance proprietors in addition to holding other jobs, jumped 57% from ’01 to ’13.)

The steepest percentage drops came for floral designers (-34%) and fashion designers (-20%). Architects haven’t done so hot either (-13%).

SOCDescription2001 Jobs2009 Jobs2013 Jobs2001-2013 Change% ChangeMedian Hourly Earnings17-1011Architects, Except Landscape and Naval124,287116,516108,542-15,745-13%$32.6317-1012Landscape Architects22,33121,72020,623-1,708-8%$28.5527-1021Commercial and Industrial Designers45,26640,80141,528-3,738-8%$26.8627-1022Fashion Designers27,12520,86321,681-5,444-20%$29.6027-1023Floral Designers86,68760,53057,047-29,640-34%$11.2027-1024Graphic Designers291,937273,352270,248-21,689-7%$20.5427-1025Interior Designers84,17085,31382,312-1,858-2%$21.2727-1027Set and Exhibit Designers9,94310,44210,7928499%$23.8027-1029Designers, All Other10,93410,17110,433-501-5%$20.77Total702,681639,708623,206-79,475-11%$22.92Source: QCEW Employees, Non-QCEW Employees & Self-Employed - EMSI 2014.2 Class of Worker

For the few metropolitan areas becoming more specialized in design jobs, there are a few surprises at the top of the list. Some have merely performed a little better than the nation and others are seeing substantial upticks after the downturn.

Detroit has seen the biggest post-recession job boost for traditional design employees (15% from 2009 to 2013) as well as the biggest increase in concentration (location quotient)—from just above the national average at 1.06 to 1.19 in 2013. Detroit also has the highest share of commercial and industrial designers at five times the national average. Traditional jobs for industrial designers have shot up 29% since 2009, most of the credit for which goes to the auto industry.

The New York City metro is second in concentration growth, followed by Austin, which grew 13%, and Columbus, which has the third-highest concentration of fashion designers among big cities, thanks to the presence of DSW, L Brands, and Abercrombie & Fitch, as Florida noted. Overall, Columbus had a 6% increase in traditional design jobs from 2009 to 2013 and a 16% decline in self-employed jobs (from 944 jobs to 797).

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward has the highest concentration of designers among the largest metros, at 76% above the national average (a location quotient of 1.76). Traditional design jobs grew 5% after the recession in the Bay Area, and they pay on average $32.58 an hour—well above the national average. Graphic designers have done particularly well in the San Francisco-Oakland area, adding 360 of the 543 new total design jobs since 2009.

Although the density of designers has barely budged in Minneapolis-St. Paul, it has the highest concentration of graphic designers of the large cities analyzed (see the following CityLab map). There are roughly 4,400 graphic designers who are employees of companies in the Twin Cities, 71% above than the national average given the share of jobs regionally compared to the share of jobs nationally. While traditional graphic design jobs have held steady, growing 1% from 2009 to 2013, jobs for self-employed graphic designers dipped 14% in Minneapolis-St. Paul over that time. There are still about 1,000 self-employed graphic designers in the Twin Cities.

For more on these trends, read Richard Florida’s article.

For more on EMSI’s employment data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see data for your region, email Josh Wright. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.