How much are you worth? What we learnt from the 2014 design salary survey

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August 15, 2014
How much are you worth? What we learnt from the 2014 design salary survey.

thumbnailDesign salaries around the world vary a lot. Between all the different positions and experience levels out there, to the differences in cost of living and what's considered a "livable wage" in various places, it's no wonder there's a lot of discrepancy between what a UX designer in, say, Moscow might make compared to one in California.

Cameron Moll, of, has conducted a design salary survey for design jobs and dev positions around the world. Here I'm going to focus on design roles, though you can check out the raw data for all the positions in this Google Spreadsheet. I'm also including the median salary from AIGA for each position for comparison. Most of the time, the AIGA numbers fall somewhere in the middle of the "middle 50%" range of salaries.

If you're trying to decide what kind of web design job to go after, salary is only part of the equation. But, let's be real: it's not exactly an insignificant part!

Executive and leadership positions

A lot of us think of design jobs as being very hands-on. But there are numerous executive and supervisory jobs out there for designers with some experience and expertise. While these aren't entry-level roles and you'll need to take on lower-level positions as stepping stones, these can be good positions to direct your career aspirations totward.

Art Director

Salary Range: $5k to $150k; Middle 50%: $40k to $75k

AIGA Median Salary: $67,500

Art directors are generally responsible for the overall visual style and imagery for everything from magazines and newspapers to websites to film and television. An art director at an agency is likely going to oversee the visual style of each client brand, directing the look of advertisements, websites, logos, and other materials.

In a corporate setting, the art director is going to focus on the visual style of the particular brand, and may oversee a team of designers.

In some settings, though, "art director" can be used as a catch-all term for someone who's in charge of a company's visuals, and may actually do everything from design to coding to placing advertising.

Creative/Design Director

Salary Range: $14k to $190k; Middle 50%: $90k to $140k

AIGA Media Salary: $100,000 for agency, $75,000 for in-house

A design or creative director often has a similar role to an art director, though it's generally considered to be more specialized. It's often a supervisory role that's in charge of the rest of the design team, and oversees all of their work.

The design director is going to lead the design team toward not only coming up with creative ideas, but also implementing them. As such, it's considered a high-level position, and is generally filled by someone with a lot of experience, and possibly with a lot of formal education.

Chief Design Officer

Salary Range: $28,400 to $250k; Middle 50%: $85k to $144k

AIGA Media Salary: $104,500

Chief Design Officer is a corporate title that is given to the person in charge of a company's design projects. They may oversee a team of art directors or creative directors in larger companies, or they may replace them entirely in smaller ones.

CDO is a fairly new position, and is often in charge of tasks that were previously done by the chief marketing officer or other design executives (like the design, creative, or art directors).

Because CDO is an executive position, the salary range reflects that. And, like most other positions at this level, is likely going to be filled by someone with a lot of experience and expertise.

Design Manager

Salary Range: $25,500 to $105k; Middle 50%: $42k to $93k

AIGA Media Salary: $75,000

The design manager is a supervisory position that's less glamorous-sounding than "art director" or "design directory", but effectively does a lot of the same things. Design managers are often simultaneously project managers and control the creative process of their team. But where design managers differ is that they may take on additional, less creative, roles than art or creative directors handle.

The design manager may be focused more on the business end of things, and in how to achieve the company's overall business objectives via design. Design managers are in charge of maintaining consistency and quality within the different designs (including across different design disciplines), and helping to develop and implement the overall brand design and strategy.

Product Manager

Salary Range: $9,100 to $175k; Middle 50%: $68k to $92k

AIGA Media Salary: (no data)

A product manager often has more of a hybrid role that includes both design and business functions. While the exact duties of this role are going to vary widely based on the company and the product, let's look at it from a software or app product manager role, which is likely what most of the respondents of the survey are doing.

A product manager in this case is responsible for making sure that the app or software in question meets user needs. It includes both design and user experience management, as well as overseeing the business end of things. Product managers need to be creative and analytical, and able to work with multiple teams and departments to make sure the product meets user expectations while also achieving the company or brand's goals.

Non-management design jobs

While design management jobs are generally better paying than lower-level positions, everyone's gotta start somewhere, and that's usually not in a management position. That being said, not every job listed here is entry-level, and some pay just as much as the management positions above, depending on your skill level and the particular company.

Junior Designer

Salary Range: $1k to $110k; Middle 50%: $30k to $50k

AIGA Media Salary: $40,000

Junior designer is generally considered to be an entry-level position, the kind of thing one gets when first starting out or immediately after graduating from college. As such, the salary reflects the lack of experience.

In most cases, a junior designer is going to be given specific design tasks to complete from a higher-level designer or manager/director, without much control over the overall visual style and look of the project. In all likelihood, you'll be given small jobs like designing ads or minor graphics work. Unfortunately, junior designers may also find themselves doing a lot of grunt work like answering phones or making coffee, with little actual design work. Be sure to figure out which kind of position it is before you start.

Mid-Level Designer

Salary Range: $5k to $510k; Middle 50%: $40k to $80k

AIGA Media Salary: $46,000 (for "designer" job title)

Mid-level designers are rarely responsible for the kind of basic design and grunt work that junior designers sometimes face. At this level, they may even do things like prepare design briefs, meet with clients, and do actual design work (often directed by a lead designer or director).

Mid-level designers may take on smaller clients or projects on their own, with only basic oversight from management. After a few years in this kind of position, many mid-level designers may choose to move on to become a lead designer or design manager, depending on their skills and positions at their particular company.

Senior/Lead Designer

Salary Range: $8k to $350k; Middle 50%: $67,500 to $110k

AIGA Media Salary: $62,500

Senior and lead designers often border on management positions, but are generally much more involved in the practical hands-on design work than a manager or director might be. They are likely much more focused on results, rather than simply on the design visuals like lower-level designers may be.

In some companies, a lead designer may replace the design director or art director, or even the design manager. In these cases, the lead designer may work much more on the ideas and concepts, while leaving the actual execution of those things to mid-level and junior designers. It's largely dependent on the individual company. In either case, though, the lead or senior designer is going to be someone with a lot of experience and a lot of expertise, who may act as a mentor to other designers in the organization.

Mobile UI Designer

Salary Range: $5,100 to $130k; Middle 50%: $40k to $75k

AIGA Media Salary: $65,000 (for mobile interface designer)

What a mobile UI designer does is pretty self-explanatory: they design the user interfaces of mobile apps or operating systems. With the explosion of mobile apps in the past few years, great mobile UI designers are in demand.

Mobile UI design is much more specialized than general graphic or web design, with strict standards and guidelines that must be followed. User experience is key, and something any mobile UI designer has to have a firm grasp on. This can range from an entry-level position to a more senior position, and there may be junior, mid-level, and lead positions in any given firm.

Head of UX

Salary Range: $18,500 to $220k; Middle 50%: $85k to $150k

AIGA Media Salary: (no data)

The head of user experience at a company may or may not do any hands on design work. Their primary role is to make sure that the websites or apps their company produces are user friendly and work as intended. They are likely to be very involved in things like writing design briefs and user testing, though the actual design work may be left to others.

Of course, some heads of UX take very hands-on roles in the design of the user interface and functionality of their projects, though this varies based on the company, their resources, and the size of the team.

User Experience Designer

Salary Range: $1k to $580k; Middle 50%: $55k to $100k

AIGA Media Salary: $80,000

Unlike the head of UX, a user experience designer is going to be much more involved in the actual design of a website or app. They may work in collaboration with other designers who may focus more on the form of the app, while the user experience designer needs to be just as concerned with the functionality.

The UX designer's job is to make sure that the product works as it should and provides an optimal user experience. That means they must focus on functionality first, with form following. That can create tension with the rest of the design team, who may be focused more on visuals than function. It also means that a UX designer is better able to do their job if they also understand how apps and websites are coded and programmed, so that they know what stumbling blocks may crop up as the project is actually developed.

Some of these are synonymous

One thing you might notice from the above is that a lot of these job descriptions and job titles are almost identical. In some companies or agencies, you may find that there is both an art director and a design director, for instance, and that they do two different things. Two other agencies might have design and art directors whose job responsibilities are identical.

A lead designer at one firm may be doing the exact same job as the design manager at another. The titles are somewhat fluid. I've broken them down as such because that's how the data was presented in the Design Salaries Survey. If you check out the raw data, you'll see notes for some of these that may shed more light on what each is doing in relation to their pay.

The outliers on the pay scale

Another thing you may notice in the above is that there are some extremes in the salary ranges. For example, under user experience designer there are salary ranges from $1,000 per year (for a designer in Turkey) to $580,000 per year (from someone in Singapore).

Outliers like this are why I've also included the "middle 50%" figures, to give a more accurate range of what the positions are actually likely to pay. This eliminates those who may be making significantly more or significantly less than the norm for reasons that may vary widely from one circumstance to the next. For example, that $580,000 designer might have been working at the same firm for the past 20 years, may work on commission of some sort, or may be the owner's nephew. That $1,000 designer in Turkey may only work part time, may be getting other benefits not covered in dollar figures, or may do a lot of pro bono work.

In either case, eliminating those outliers gives a more accurate representation of what web designers are actually likely to make in a chosen career path.

The outlook for web design jobs

Looking at the U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook, it's hard to get a clear picture of what kind of job growth exists in this sector. Part of the reason for that is that there's no "web designer" job title, only a mix of job titles that are similar and related, that we have to infer from.

The occupational outlook for web developers, for example, is 20% between 2012 and 2022, faster than average growth. Graphic designers, on the other hand, are projected to grow at around 7% over the same time period, which is slower than average. The growth for multimedia artists and animators is projected at 6%, also slower than average.

The outlook for desktop publishers (which includes some basic web design work) is set to decline by 5% by 2022. That's a fairly unskilled position, though, and most are working on print jobs rather than online ones.

The final web design job-related title is that of art director. The OOH includes art directors from across disciplines, including magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and even film and television. It's projected to grow slower than average, just 3% between now and 2022.

From this, we can gather than the more technical your knowledge is, the more job prospects you're likely to have. Even if you just want to design, learning basic coding, HTML, CSS, and front-end development is going to help your job prospects down the line.

There's a ton of variation for the kinds of design jobs that are out there, as well as what they pay. The good news is that in most places, the pay is in line with what one might expect for a given position, taking experience and education into account. In most places, the typical salaries above represent at least a liveable wage, which is good news for those considering a design career.

Cameron Chapman

Cameron Chapman is a freelance writer and designer from New England. You can visit her site or follow her on Twitter.

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