Illustration by Nitzan Klamer
The demand for UX designers is only growing with 5% of the top 50 best jobs in the United States related to UX design. Considering there are many opportunities available in the industry, finding the right job seems like a simple task. Right?
After you master essential UX designer skills (user research, prototyping, and testing), all you have to do is: a) find a city you want to live in; b) find a job in that city; and c) pass the interview. However, choosing a city that suits you personally and professionally can be difficult because experienced designers are capable of finding a good-paying job in almost every major city in the country.
To help you get started, here are the top eight cities in the U.S. to be a UX practitioner. We’ve considered both the career potential for UX designers (number of jobs available, average salaries, UX design communities, etc.) as well as location (the best cities in the U.S. to explore outside of work).
1: San Francisco, California
San Francisco is the first city that usually comes to mind when you think about the tech scene. San Francisco is the mecca for UX designers, a place that is widely considered to be the technology hub of the world. Silicon Valley is famous for its start-up culture—a place of openness, free exchange of ideas, and having fun while building products. All of it makes San Francisco an ideal location for anyone who wants to join a start-up movement and make the world a better place to live.
The Bay Area is the home of some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Google, Twitter, and Tesla. Both Google I/O and Apple WWDC—annual conferences for designers, developers, and IT geeks—take place in the Bay Area.
Many prestigious design agencies are located here, too, including IDEO, which is famous for applying design thinking to nearly every kind of problem.
San Francisco is well known for its UX community, and the area only holds a handful of key conferences each year. As a designer, you have an opportunity to join the best design conference in the world, such as Awwwards or An Event Apart.
With an average annual salary for UX designers of $128,000 per year, San Francisco is the most well-paid city on our list. But the cost of living is one of the major downsides of San Francisco. With an average monthly living cost of $4,000 (a single person’s monthly costs and rent), San Francisco, and parts of the Bay Area, is the most expensive place to live in the U.S.
2: San Diego, California
Let’s not leave California but move a bit to the south, where the city of San Diego is located. This city is known for its beaches, parks, and warm climate. But when it comes to a UX designer’s career, this city has a lot of things to offer. Many prestigious UX design agencies call San Diego their home. This city is also a home for Qualcomm, a pioneer in the 5G industry.
San Diego has a few good design communities, such as SDXD (2500 members). The good thing about this community is that it offers both education and inspiration. It’s an excellent place to create new business and personal connections.
UX beginners can join UX Design Immersive bootcamps organized by General Assembly that offer essential practical skills. The course lasts around three months and offers essential skills for people who want to join the design field. Full tuition costs $13,950. Alternatively, UX beginners can join the UX Design course organized by the University of California San Diego. Course duration is 15 to 21 months (the duration varies by student and courses taken per quarter) and costs around $5,400.
3: Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the second-largest tech hub on the West Coast. It is home to some of the world’s most famous IT companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, and an ideal place for nature lovers, hikers, and campers.
Seattle is an excellent place to become more engaged in both your work and the design community. A resource called UX Seattle provides great information about local events, companies, and Slack communities. ConveyUX and IXDA Interaction are significant design conferences that take place in Seattle. (Check out Adomas Tautkus in the recap of IXDA’2019 to get an idea of what happens at the conference.)
Seattle also has some lovely coworking spaces, including Ballard Labs and We Work at Lincoln Square. The prices vary depending on the place, but generally, a personal desk starts at $300 per month, while a private office starts at $1,000 per month.
The annual salary of UX designers in Seattle is $109,000 per year. According to a report from The Seattle Times, Seattle is now the most expensive large city for rent outside of California in the U.S. (the median monthly rent and utilities paid in the city is $1,555). However, the good news is that there is no state income tax in the state of Washington.
4: Redmond, Washington
Redmond is a city located 15 miles east of Seattle. It’s the home of Microsoft and Nintendo of America. Apart from good coffee and great outdoor activities, the city offers a few good things for UX designers. One of them is the local meetups. UX Crunch and Ladies that UX organizes regular online and offline events for UX designers.
The average salary for UX designers is $102,710 per year and slightly lower than in Seattle. At the same time, the cost of living in Redmond is higher than in Seattle. So, if you plan to relocate to Redmond, you need to be careful with your expenses.
5: Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S.—a place that plays a central role in American history. Boston was a political, commercial, financial, religious, and educational center of the New England region. Not surprisingly, Massachusetts is home of the most prestigious universities in the world—both Harvard and MIT are located in the region. Boston is famous for its incredible seafood and legendary sports teams, such as the Boston Red Sox. In the tech field, Boson is known for its robotics (Boston Dynamics is located in Waltham). Without any doubt, your practical skills in designing UIs will very much come in handy here.
Boston offers plenty of job opportunities for UX designers, and it also has a very strong UX community. With UX Boston, UXPA, Boston CHI, and many other active local UX groups, Boston is an ideal place to start networking.
The average salary for UX designers in Boston is $105,000 per year. But top companies in this area, such as Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, and LinkedIn, offer up to $150,000 per year for UX designer positions.
6: New York, New York
Now let’s move to the East Coast, to the city that never sleeps. New York is considered a hotspot for designers in finance (fin-tech), marketing, and advertising (ad-tech). New York has found a way to mesh together its business and tech worlds, and that’s why UX professionals play a significant role in all of these companies. Not surprisingly, lots of digital agencies are headquartered in NYC.
New York is also home to a number of the world’s best design schools, such as Pratt Institute—a good opportunity for anyone who wants to improve their skills in design or designing apps.
NYC also holds many great UX conferences, including 99u and Smashing Conference. If you want to see Khoi Vinh or Sarah Drasner on stage, be sure to book a seat at one of the conferences.
Last but not least, if you want to make your social life more fun, you can join one of many local NYC events. Good news for people who like social distancing—you don’t have to visit meetups in person because many (like NYC UXD) are held online.
The average salary for UX designers in NYC is $104,000 per year. The price for rent is comparable to the Bay Area (as of January 2020, the average monthly rent for an apartment in New York City is $3,432). At first glance, it’s evident that the Bay Area beats New York in terms of benefits. However, NYC creates a compelling atmosphere for creatives and enables them to explore the city to get inspiration. A couple of years living in the Big Apple can be good for your career as a UX designer. Personal recommendation: Be sure to visit the park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island for great views of Manhattan and Queens.
7: Chicago, IL
To quote H. L. Mencken: “I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.” Chicago is among the largest cities in the U.S., with a great history and great companies. Chicago is a business hub: Companies like Grubhub, Capital One, and Motorola Solutions have their offices in Chicago, so as a designer, you will have a really good list of options to choose from—from fin-tech to eCommerce and food delivery.
The average salary for UX designers is $105,000 per year, which is the same as in New York. But the cost of living in Chicago is lower. For example, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago is $1,708 per month.
8: Austin, Texas
Austin is quickly making a name for itself as a new tech hub. Big names like Dell and Oracle have settled in the Texan capital for years. But Austin is rapidly becoming a home for many start-ups because it creates a nice mix of creatives and entrepreneurial-minded professionals. Not surprisingly, Forbes lists Austin as a Top 10 city to start a business. If you’re interested in start-ups, check the top 50 Austin start-ups to watch in 2020.
There are a lot of design-related communities in Austin. AIGA Austin, Enterprise UX Austin, and IDF Austin are a few honorable mentions. Cory Lebson wrote a nice article about Austin UX communities for UX Magazine, “The Hidden Value of UX Connectors and the Future of Our Community.” This article makes it easier to understand the underlying values of Austin communities, which offer visible friendship and support.
The average salary of a UX designer in Austin is $103,000 per year. While the salary is not as high as in the Bay Area, the cost of living in Austin is more reasonable, making the UX professional salaries even more alluring.
All cities on our list provide excellent opportunities for UX designers. But if you want to move to one of these cities, you need to perfect your UX design skills. XD Ideas is a perfect place to start. Invest more time in learning and perfecting your portfolio and chase your dreams—wherever they take you.
City Ranking Method Disclosure
The information and rankings for this list were obtained by utilizing the following sources: