What are the highest-paying design jobs?
Think your graphic design career's gonna land you on skid row? If so, the variety of high-paying design jobs may surprise you. In fact, design careers can pay anywhere from $35k a year to upwards of $100k. And for a starving artist, that range ain't too shabby.
- Web Designer – $47k – 48k
- Graphic Designer – $58k – 59k
- Multimedia Designer – $54k – $55k
- Email Marketing – $59k – 60k
- Art Director – $72k – $73k
- Senior Designer – $82k – $83k
- UI Designer – $83k – $84k
- UX Designer – $87k – $88k
- Creative Director – $133k – $134k
Above are the average incomes* of nine, design-related jobs (conveniently listed for the parents who thought your art degree was a waste of time).
What are my options as a graphic designer?
“Graphic designer,” encapsulates numerous areas, like marketing, tech, and advertising—just to name a few. Because of this, we at Bittbox wanted to help our readers explore various graphic design careers, who's offering them, and the kind of money available.
We tried to pick a handful of design jobs that cover varying skill, education, and experience level. So, in theory, you can benefit from this list whether you are just beginning your design career, or if you’ve been working in the field for many years.
Web Designer – $47k – 48k
While web designers have to be visually savvy, they also need fluency in various coding languages. Web developers often have the task of building an entire site around just one image or idea. Of course, there isn't just one kind of web developer. As with most design-related jobs, it's good to have a specialized skill set. In other words, a developer with a niche can actually be more marketable.
While the average yearly pay of a web designer is somewhat lower than some of the other careers in this list, it is worth mentioning that every city we picked had a higher citywide average for web design careers than the national average. This means as a web designer, you have a good chance of making above-average pay in any city in our list (which you can find below).
On average, web designers make the most in San Jose, CA at roughly $80k a year. The citywide averages in New York City and Los Angeles are also fairly higher, at roughly $60k. High-paying companies include Milestone Internet Marketing and TrialPay.
Graphic Designer – $58k – 59k
Graphic design is an excellent way for artists to make money doing what they love. Designers often have the opportunity to transform brands, build images, and illustrate advertisements. What's more, graphic designers often have the opportunity to work up and into other types of fields. In other words, your graphic design career may turn into another passion at some point down the road.
Graphic designers make the most in San Francisco, at about $67k per year. The highest paying companies include Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Airbnb, who often pay even more. San Jose, Seattle, DC, LA, and NYC all pay above-average for graphic designers.
Multimedia Designer – $54k – $55k
Multimedia designers have the unique ability to build illustrations and videos using a variety of tools. This type of skill set makes multimedia designers valuable to advertisers, television networks, and various businesses.
San Francisco also leads in pay average for multimedia designers, at roughly $70k. Compared to some of the other design careers in our list, multimedia designers are not as widely represented. However, NYC, LA, and Seattle all show above-average numbers. Even Denver's multimedia designers do well, boasting an average income of about $56k.
Email Marketing – $59k – 60k
Those who work in email marketing have an important role. An email's content, length, and send time are all factors in a company's success. Newsletters are a massive part of marketing, and the right email can lead to sales, whereas the wrong email may go unnoticed.
Email marketing certainly has its own array of jobs, including specialists, coordinators, and more. San Jose leads in pay average, with nearly $80k per year. Other cities to look out for are NYC (which offers email marketing jobs at places like Ann Taylor and eBay), LA, San Francisco, Seattle, DC, and Minneapolis, which has an average of roughly $60k.
Art Director – $72k – $73k
Similar to email marketing positions, art direction jobs can be in virtually any field, and art direction covers multiple tasks and specialties. Art direction often involves taking a vision and putting it into action with the right team.
Art directors are needed (and paid well by) Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Walt Disney Company, and more. According to Glassdoor, San Jose pays the best, at an average of around $115k. Keep in mind, many art directors must earn the title through special schooling or certain types of experience.
Senior Designer – $82k – $83k
Senior designers are advanced professionals with a wide breadth of knowledge about concepting, executing, and leading design projects. Many graphic designers work their way up to this point through experience.
Companies who look for senior designers include household names as well as ad agencies like AKQA and IDEO. San Jose takes the lead on yearly income, with an average of $109k. This makes sense, as companies in the San Jose area include IBM, Apple, and Google. Seattle, San Francisco, and NYC are also among the highest city averages.
UI Designer – $83k – $84k
UI designers are extremely valuable, especially for those of us who appreciate a beautiful site layout. UI designers not only need a keen eye for good web design, but they also have to execute that design in a way that looks professional and clean.
UI Designers do well, with every city in our list averaging above $65k. The highest is San Jose, with an average of about $100k. Other big cities for UI designers include DC, San Francisco, and NYC, with companies like American Express, DIRECTV, Verizon, Amazon, and PayPal.
UX Designer – $87k – $88k
UX designers work to ensure sites are navigational and understandable. They build sites in a way that feels both intuitive and logical, which means they constantly have to consider how a user may interact with a site's build.
As you might have expected, UX designers also do best in San Jose, with a yearly average of about $104k. UX designers will also find luck in cities such as NYC, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and DC, all of which are above the national average. A few companies who pay their UX designers well are Pearson, Amazon, Verizon, and eBay.
Creative Director – $133k – $134k
A creative director must be a visionary, focusing on the brand's image and future. Like art direction, creative direction has a great number of possibilities. Overall, if you have the right schooling, garner the proper experience, and the stars align for you, creative direction will serve your wallet extremely well.
In fact, all the cities in our list have a yearly average of over $90k. San Jose once again takes the cake with an average of over $180k. Other above-average cities include Seattle, NYC, San Francisco, and Boston, with companies like DigitasLBI, Harvard Business Publishing, LinkedIn, Apple, and AKQA. Another city to keep an eye on is Raleigh; while the average is lower than the national average, $122k a year ain’t too bad.
Cities with graphic design opportunities
Since we looked into a variety of graphic design career choices, we also looked into a wide selection of US cities with opportunities. We picked high-profile US cities with large populations, as well as some of the best US places to live.
As you can imagine, many of the highest-paying careers are in high-profile cities with high costs of living. If you’d like to compare the yearly income levels from this article to a certain city’s cost of living, check out this site.
Below are cities with graphic design opportunities:
- Austin, TX
- Boise, ID
- Boston, MA
- Charleston, SC
- Cincinnati, OH
- Denver, CO
- Des Moines, IA
- Fayetteville, AR
- Los Angeles, CA
- Minneapolis, MN
- Nashville, TN
- New York City, NY
- Oklahoma City, OK
- Orlando, FL
- Raleigh, NC
- Richmond, VA
- Salt Lake City, UT
- San Francisco, CA
- San Jose, CA
- Seattle, WA
- Washington DC
The #2 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
As far as big business goes, Austin has a good selection. Not only does Austin boast the world headquarters of Whole Foods (recently bought by Amazon), but it also offers corporate jobs with companies like Dell, IBM, and Apple. There are also plenty of businesses catered to the design realm, like TradeMark Media and The Mod Studio.
The #6 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
The #30 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Boston claims big businesses such as General Electric, Converse, and Liberty Mutual. You can also find creative jobs at agencies big and small, like DigitasLBI, Spin350 Creative, The Fantastical, and AMP Agency.
The #19 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
This beachy, southern town has a blossoming creative industry, with web design and advertising growing rapidly. Some of the creative companies located in Charleston include SOUTH, One & Other, Cre843, and Rawle Murdy.
The #37 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Cincinnati is home to many corporations, some of the big players being P&G, Fifth Third Bank, and Kroger. There are also numerous creative companies, like Zeal40, Cincinnati Web Tec, Primax Studio, Matter. Creative Group, and Powers Agency.
The #1 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
As the #1 place to live, Denver is a popular choice for those looking to move. It is also home to Western Union, Dish Network, and smaller companies, like Voco Creative, Pivotal, Crowd Favorite, Cactus, LRXD, COHN, and Zenman.
Des Moines, IA
The #11 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Some of the bigger players in Des Moines that offer creative jobs are Meredith Corporation, Principal Financial, and Athene. The smaller, more creative companies include Happy Medium, TwoTone Creative, Flynn Wright, PUSH, and Brainstorm Iowa.
The #3 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Fayetteville is home to some bigger-name businesses, like Walmart and Tyson Foods, which offer a huge variety of jobs in the corporate sphere. More artistic companies include Red Rooster Design, Creative, Blue Zoo, One Big Kid, Archetype Pro, and Mockingbird.
Los Angeles, CA
The #2 most highly populated city
When it comes to LA, you can apply to hundreds and hundreds of creative companies. You can search business rating sites like Glassdoor and kununu for info on highly rated work environments with good opportunities. Additionally, Built in LA offers a monthly guide on the best techs and startups in LA.
The #12 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
The #22 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
If you read our post on Tennessee graphic designers, you know there's no shortage of artistic talent in Nashville. With Fortune 500 companies like AT&T, Dollar General Corp., and Tractor Supply Co., there are plenty of competitive careers in Music City. Design-oriented companies include Gear Seven, redpepper, Speak Creative, Proof Branding, Anode, and Emma.
New York City, NY
The #1 most highly populated city
Oklahoma City, OK
The#31 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Smack-dab in the middle of LA and NYC, Oklahoma City is a midwestern city with a lot to offer. Oklahoma's big players include Sonic, Hobby Lobby, and Love's, if you're considering the corporate route. Some smaller companies with an artsy flair are STAPLEGUN, Insight Creative Group, Syn3rgy, and Creative Vega.
The #44 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
In addition to the world's favorite selection of theme parks, Orlando offers a huge variety of big business, including Verizon, Darden, and Tupperware. Among their creative companies are Three21, REMIXED, BIGEYE, and Different Perspective.
The #4 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
The #28 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Salt Lake City, UT
The #27 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Salt Lake City offers a wide variety of opportunities, whether it's cultural enlightenment or the great outdoors. Their artistic businesses include Jibe Media, Super Top Secret, Axis41, Penna Powers, and Struck.
San Francisco, CA
The #9 Best Place to Live, according to BI; #13 most highly populated city
Like LA and NYC, San Francisco has all the things an aspiring city-dweller could want. Glassdoor and kununu will continue to serve you well when looking for jobs here. Keep in mind that San Francisco has the highest cost of living in our list, surpassed only by NYC.
San Jose, CA
The #10 Best Place to Live, according to BI; #10 most highly populated city
Since it's in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose has no shortage of careers for creatives and techies. Just an hour outside of San Francisco, there's plenty of work to be had here, and you can find much of that work on the job ratings site above. Remember, most of the jobs in our list pay best in San Jose.
The #7 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Seattle is a Fortune 500 Mecca, with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Costco, just to name a few. Creative companies include Hacker Agency, efelle creative, Wunderman, and DEI Creative.
The #8 Best Place to Live, according to Business Insider
Love that capital city buzz? DC has so much to offer, from history to the arts. You can find your own artistic fit in one of the many agencies located in the city: AD Agency, Fathom Creative, Agency Chief, and Aquent.
Conclusion: finding the dream graphic design career
Ultimately, these numbers are just a guestimation of what to expect in each city, but most planning begins with a rough idea. With the right tools, you can begin to plan a career route ideal to your interests and budget.
Take a place like San Jose, for instance. While it has a high cost of living, it also has much to offer financially. Depending on the situation, a place like that might be worth a chance. On the other hand, a place with an exorbitant cost of living and limited opportunities might not warrant a life-changing move. Overall, you have to consider the best fit for you financially and culturally. Once you've done that, the research can begin.
Maybe you see your dream job+destination combo in this list, or maybe you don't. Either way, there are resources out there for you. These resources allow us to learn about the careers we want, the places we enjoy, and what it takes to achieve professional goals (no matter how lofty).
So, start planning, because you're never stuck in just one job or city. There are hundreds of opportunities in hundreds of places. You just have to find them.
*This article and the affiliated US averages were taken from Glassdoor’s anonymous and user reports.