While careers in graphic design aren’t exactly synonymous with the salaries you’d expect from, say, the finance or business world, they’re an ideal path for anyone looking combine a love of art with tech-savviness, and a knack for project management and general business. They’re also in high demand, particularly in sectors known for rapid technological innovation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of graphic designers in computer systems design and related services is projected to grow 24 percent by 2028.
The field of graphic design covers a wide range of commercial artistry but overall, most often refers to the application of design to things like printed materials, company branding, logos, designs for web, social media—and nearly everything else we look at that has images, words, or both.
What’s more, with as little as a bachelor’s degree in graphic design in hand, you’ll find that there are an extensive variety of jobs that you can pursue across just as many industries, including advertising, manufacturing, publishing, and education, among a long list of others. But at the same time, having a nearly endless assortment of specializations and focuses in the field can make it difficult to discern how are designers compensated for their work.
According to the 2020 creative and marketing salary guide from global human resource consulting firm Robert Half, graphic designers pull in a median of $56,750 per year. Not the most comfortable salary, but don’t let it serve as a marker for every graphic design expert out there. One of the biggest salary indicators is the length of career, with experience leading to greater responsibility, promotions, and higher pay.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the highest-paying jobs in graphic design make up roles that go beyond the day-to-day grind of churning out mockups and obsessing over fonts to take charge of design and creative teams. Across the board, these positions are known for leading the creative professionals they work with and inspiring them to create the best work possible. And as it turns out, that ability is one that substantial pay.
It’s common to find creative services managers (CSMs) at work in advertising agencies or corporate settings. In an agency, the CSM initially meets with a new client to fine-tune an idea, whether it’s a new brand concept, the creation of a one-off marketing piece, or even a branded event. In a corporate setting, the process is much the same, but the clients are internal. In this case, they may include marketing directors, product managers, or other leadership.
Once the idea is streamlined and approved, CSMs are responsible for executing it by mapping out budgets and timelines and delegating tasks across a creative team. From here, CSMs will commonly meet with their client to receive feedback as the idea takes shape, and implement their feedback into the final product.
Though CSMs and art directors take part in a similar creative process, CSMs typically ensure the productivity of a given design or creative team. Art directors, on the other hand, focus on style, messaging, and imagery.
To enter the field you’ll most likely need at least a bachelor’s degree in design, media production, or a related field. Companies also prefer candidates to have three to five years of supervisory experience, as well as a wealth of graphic design, photography, and, in some cases, videography expertise.
While it’s up to creative directors to steer their organization’s creative strategy, unify their teams, and foster a positive work environment, the art director focuses on executing the details of the project or projects at hand. Once a concept is out on the table, art directors are responsible for managing their creative teams through the phases of production, edits, and final execution. Unlike a creative director, they may jump in at certain points in the process to create themselves.
As with all of the jobs on this list, education is a crucial first step for anyone seeking out future work within this role. Most employers prefer candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, web design, art, animation, or a related field. They also need five or more years of work experience as a graphic designer, editor, photographer, or within a related field is also essential to mastering the technical skills you’ll need to manage a team of creatives.
This role can most easily be described by taking what you now know about art directors and adding a specialization. Whereas art directors, in general, might manage the creative process behind a variety of projects, interactive art directors pay special focus to projects concerning web and mobile products and services.
Like all art directors, this specialization requires candidates to combine their expertise of design principles with an intuitive sense of style and in-depth knowledge of the markets and technologies that pertain to their work. Additionally, most interactive art directors will have at least a bachelor’s degree in art or design and five or more years of professional experience. Depending upon the industry, they may work as graphic designers, fine artists, editors, photographers, or in another art or design specialization before advancing to this role.
Likely the most well-known of leadership positions in the creative sphere, creative directors are responsible for overseeing the creative vision of a company or brand and ensuring that vision manifests in everything their team creates—be it an advertising campaign, fashion line, video game or magazine. Depending on the size and scope of their organization, they may also tasked to establishes their department’s budgets and timelines, and manage client relationships.
A bachelor’s degree in fine arts or graphic design will be helpful to get your foot in the door of a creative-based company, but it’s going to take more than that to land the title of creative director. While most companies don’t require candidates to hold an advanced degree, some candidates may pursue a master of fine arts (MFA) or master of business administration (MBA) degree to further their skills and knowledge in the field.
And, alongside years of work experience, aspiring creative directors can further prove their dedication to the field by joining professional organizations such as the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the International Council of Design (Ico-D), and the Graphic Arts Guild.
A user experience (UX) director exists as the principal leader of a company or brand’s UX department, which focuses on designing digital or physical products that are useful, easy to use, and delightful to interact with. In essence, they work to enhance people’s experience of a product, whether they’re scrolling through a website, clicking a link in a marketing email, or playing a game on their phone.
If a UX director has an overall agenda, it’s to define their organization’s design language while managing their department’s work processes and promoting its growth. Typically, candidates pursuing this role have an extremely high degree of UX design expertise coupled with managerial leadership experience with teams that design service, support, or product systems in areas like technology, media, or software. In some cases, employers will require a bachelor’s degree in areas like computer science, information systems, design, or even psychology. In others, they may call for graduate-level degrees like an MBA, or a master’s in marketing, design, or engineering.
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