I’d like to answer the questions I am asked most often in a new Creative Opera feature: Design FAQ. Even though our first question isn’t the most polite to ask, I think it’s a big one for most potential designers: How much money do Graphic Designers make?
Unfortunately it’s not an easy question to answer. There are many variables that affect design salaries:
What you do
Are you a print designer? A web designer? A programmer or developer? Not all categories of designers make the same money. If you’re thinking about going to school, and you’re wondering which design field is going to be the most lucrative, work on your programming and development skills. According to the AIGA|Aquent Salary Survey from 2008, a designer is on the low end of the pay scale, followed by print production artist, web designer, copywriter, front-end web developer, and bringing home the biggest paychecks, the back-end web programmer/developers.
Your experience and level of responsibility
Are you managing a department? Are you responsible when things go wrong? If so, you’ll be making more cash than the entry-level designers. In order of compensation, an entry-level designer earns the least amount of money, followed by a designer, a senior designer, an art director, and a creative director. Expect to spend some time working your way up if you want to bring home the big bucks.
Where you live
It makes sense that location would have a lot to do with a designer’s salary. Those working in metropolitan areas are going to make larger salaries than those living in smaller cities. San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles are on the top of the big money list. You may be surprised, though, to find out that Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. pay almost as well as those larger cities.
Thinking of moving to Los Angeles? Don’t pack your suitcases just yet. Many times larger salaries mean that there are more designers competing for positions. Do all of your research before moving to a new city for better pay. You want to make sure that there are some jobs available first!
Other things that factor into pay scale are: the type of organization you work for, the size of the organization, and your client base. And, what about benefits? Sometimes a job with great benefits can outweigh a higher paycheck.
Where’s my answer?
So, where can you find the details? AIGA and Aquent put together an extensive Survey of Design Salaries every year. In it, you’ll find everything from pay scales to benefits. To download a copy of the 2008 survey, click here. To use AIGA’s interactive Salary Calculator to find out how much money you should be (or could be) making, click here. And, if you have some extra time, visit the AIGA website for invaluable design resources and advice.
Looking for the 2009 Survey? Check out the updated information here: 2009 Design Salaries: How much money should you be making?
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