How Much Do Graphic Designers Earn?
March 16, 2021
Creativity, versatility, tech and business chops. It’s no secret that graphic designers have serious skills—but what factors play into how they’re compensated for their skills? Read on for a deep dive into graphic designer salary benchmarks.
Talk to any graphic designer and you may hear a grumble or two about the notion that to industry outsiders, the goal of their work is to “make things look nice." In truth, graphic design encompasses so much more than surface-level aesthetics—and requires those working in the field to possess a lot more than a creative streak and Photoshop account.
Graphic designers are highly skilled to create awareness about and attract attention to a brand, company, or organization through the use of art and technology. Whether the Nike symbol on a pair of sneakers, a map of the Louvre, or a favorite website’s navigational menu, their work encompasses an ever-growing world of visual communication. In an everyday sense, it helps us navigate our way through physical and digital spaces. In the realm of consumer products, it keeps us coming back to them.
From information technology and government to advertising and commercial goods, graphic designers are in demand in virtually every industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graphic design jobs are expected to grow 3 percent by 2028. This statistic may be lower than than the average for all U.S. occupations, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
For example, graphic designers working in traditional industries like publishing and printing are expected to have fewer job opportunities as companies continue to increase their digital presence. Meanwhile, graphic designers in industries like computer systems design can expect 24 percent job growth by 2028. A report from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) indicates that location plays a role in demand too, noting that as areas like Detroit and the Twin Cities experience growth in the tech sector, local graphic designers are more in demand.
In the case of salary, the BLS reports that graphic designers pulled in a median annual wage of $50,370 in 2018. But like job outlook, this statistic is one that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. To do that, let’s take a look at the factors that tend to determine graphic design salaries so you can make the call on whether this career is in-line with not only your skills and values but also your financial needs.
Years of experience
As with most fields, more experience as a graphic designer typically results in higher pay. Your career as a graphic designer may take shape through an entry-level job and progress as you gain more experience and build a resume and portfolio of your work.
The typical graphic design career path begins as a junior graphic designer at a creative agency or an in-house design team at a mid-size to a large company. From there you might progress to an associate designer role, followed by senior designer, art director, and creative director.
_A look at the average graphic design salary in each of these roles:_
- Junior graphic designer: $42,912
- Graphic designer: $45,677
- Senior graphic designer: $55,421
- Art director: $69,575
- Creative director: $126,637
The industry in which you work
While some organizations attempt to “get by" with minimal creative thought in their products or marketing materials, having graphic design expertise on hand is a well-known benefit in any industry.
In the field, you may seek out employment with an established company or brand that focuses on a specific sector, such as government, media, healthcare, among a variety of others. This type of work will not only require you to be an expert on both design and your organization’s goods or services but also well-versed on the overall industry it functions within.
For example, those looking to break into healthcare-related graphic design won’t necessarily need prior health-related experience, but they will need to understand the complexity of the healthcare system; no matter how difficult things like billing processes, shift handoffs, and relationships between ‘healthcare natives’ and departments can be to grasp.
By combining industry-specific knowledge with research and design methodologies, these designers are able to re-imagine the way that people interact with healthcare and produce work intended to improve the patient or provider experience.
According to the 2019 Design Census, after communications and graphic design—which far exceed every other industry—most designers work in business and the arts, including fine art, art history, and design history. But which industry offers the highest pay?
The top-paying industries for graphic design, listed by average base salary:
- Telecommunications: $49,394
- Energy and utilities: $49,262
- Biotech and pharmaceuticals: $47,734
- Internet and tech: $47,629
- Aerospace and defense: $47,593
- Consulting: $46,816
- Architecture and civil engineering: $46,588
- Banking and financial services: $45,872
- Marketing and advertising: $45,438
- Insurance: $45,131
Where in the country you live (and work)
Just as your education and chosen industry will impact your earnings in the field of graphic design, where you work matters too. At any point in your career, you may be wondering where you could land the biggest possible paycheck. Or if you're just starting out, what city is best for your skillset.
In any case, the BLS reports that graphic designers in the District of Columbia earn the most money on average, with a median annual wage of $71,180, which equates to $20,810 more than the national average annual pay.
The top five states in order of the highest median graphic design salary:
- District of Columbia: $71,180
- New York: $64,840
- Massachusetts: $64,010
- California: $61,100
- Connecticut: $60,700
Level of education
While employers in the past may have categorized your degree type as one of the most crucial aspects of your resume, times are changing—and the ever-growing cost of higher education is making postsecondary training out of reach for some.
At the same, employers still understand the value that university-level training can lend, which in this field, encompasses immersion in design technologies and software, hands-on design experience, and interactions with instructors who are likely graphic design veterans themselves.
While it may be tempting to forego a formal education to become a self-taught designer, there are some valid reasons to be wary of this approach. For one, the BLS reports graphic designers typically need a bachelor’s degree in design or a related field. Additionally, it also plays a role in determining salary.
_Entry-level graphic design salaries based on highest level of education:_
- Associate’s degree: $49,086 - $52,229
- Bachelor's degree: $49,972 - $53,257
- Master’s degree: $50,778 - $54,496
Advancements in technology and new innovations in art have both drastically changed the graphic design field. While you can still be a jack-of-all-trades and dabble in multiple mediums within your work, more opportunities are emerging for specialists to thrive.
Though they often overlap, each type of graphic design requires a specific set of skills and design techniques on top of generalized training. In many cases, designers that operate within specializations have the potential to earn a higher salary than those with broad-based skills.
The top-paying graphic design specializations, listed by average base salary:
- Product design: $87,923
- User experience (UX) design: $85,277
- User interface (UI) design: $76,115
- Animation deisgn:$69,168
- Web design: $68,524
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