Many designers make a very respectable living. According to a new survey of over 17,000 designers across the globe, conducted by the digital networking platform Dribbble earlier this year, product designers are doing quite well in particular.
U.S.-based product designers working on physical and digital products report making an average salary of $103,000 a year. Not bad for passing on the law degree and medical license and (hopefully) never learning how to code!
That figure doesn’t appear to be the result of a few whopping salaries that threw averages out of whack, either. In fact, 73% of product designers report making salaries of $75,000 or more. But there’s a catch: the highest-paid designers live in California, where 40% of those surveyed reported making $100,000 or more a year. Figures are similar in New York and Washington state (most likely the Seattle area, where Amazon and Microsoft live). In other words, designers who make six figures are often living in a location that mandates a six-figure minimum to get by. So success in the field is relative.
Other interesting findings were that a lot of designers are side-hustling on top of full-time office jobs. Nearly half of respondents reported working on-site at a job each day. But still, 75% of all respondents disclosed that they freelanced in off hours—a finding that’s in line with another recent survey on design work. Put differently, that means that only one out of four designers is getting the creative or financial fulfillment in their career to actually call it a day at the end of a day. It’s good for the design industry that so much extra work exists, but it’s perhaps worrisome that designers are taking it at the expense of time off for their health and well-being.
One last notable tidbit was regarding education. Globally, 42% of all designers are self-taught, while only about a third report picking up their talents through a formal education. But in the U.S., half of designers reported going to school to learn the trade. Then, specifically looking at UX designers who responded to the survey, a whopping 25% have their master’s degree. That means the people designing apps, websites, and interfaces are a highly educated bunch. And it implies that breaking into the Valley as a UX designer could require not just a stunning portfolio but a serious personal investment in education.
When factoring in the cost of school, suddenly, earning $125,000 a year in the Bay Area as a UX designer seems less like making it than just getting by. So in 2019, you can earn a good living as a designer. But chances are, you’re going to need it to live.