TRUTH: Graphic Designers are under-appreciated

Greetings. For some background information, I am a IT Project Manager for the government, but over the past few years, i’ve been working on my degree in Graphic Design. As I am about to finish my final two classes, I have started investigating career opportunities to see if a career as a designer is a possibility.

By itself…it’s not. Here’s why. In the government realm, the maximum a designer can make ranges from $35,000 - $40,000 on the high end. In the private sector (at least locally), jobs run anywhere from $27,000 - $32,000. Considering the skill set required, including basic creativity, it’s my opinion that the return on investment simply isn’t there.

Thoughts appreciated. How are some of you beating the statistics above?

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For starters, yes, graphic designers are under-appreciated and underpaid for the level of skill, ability and education required to do the job well. There are numerous reasons for this, but that’s a separate post.

As a graphic designer, you won’t make as much as an IT project manager, but the numbers you’ve mentioned are mostly starting ranges. I personally know a graphic designer who’s been working at a government job for about four years. She’s making just shy of $60,000. She does graphic design work, but was hired into a related position with a title holding a higher pay scale range. I think it might be something like communication specialist III, but I’m not sure of the title.

When it comes right down to it, the title graphic designer describes an entry to mid-level position. Yes, there are senior graphic designers, but that’s still a mid-level position in the organizational hierarchy of most companies. To make reasonably good money, a designer needs to be promoted upwards into management positions with the word director in the title, like art, design, communication, brand and creative directors.

Research best done before investing in a GD career perhaps? that 35-40K isn’t take-home pay either and quite possibly includes a good amount of overtime hours (hint, take hourly pay if you can get it, where time-and-a-half kicks in over 40 hours.)

I know designers making much more than that as well. Like B said, their job title is not “graphic designer.” And they’ve more than paid their dues. They have decades of experience and a large body of successful work behind them.

I’m not sure where you’re getting your estimates. A lot of it depends on your market. If you’re in a larger metro area you’ll most likely be making more. And also corporate inhouse designers can get paid more as well depending on the field. I did a quick search using glass door and it looks like their range is around $43k to 85k with the average closer to $58k.

Bottom line, a lot can affect the range. Experience, area of specialization, skills, position, title, location, etc.

Even the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a higher average wage of around $53k. If you move your way up into Art Direction or a Manager of a Creative Team your numbers can certainly increase.

Most of the designers I know have no degree or a 2-year degree and work at sign companies and make what you listed. My experiences have differed greatly from a lot of the commonly expressed sentiments here regarding pay, requirements and education. That could be because of the job market here and the growth.


I work at a small company (3-6 people at a time), and we start our designers out at $42K a year and they get raises every year ($1-2 an hour). We don’t require a degree because we mostly do cut-and-paste political design, we just test to make sure you can keep up and you are expected to do other things if asked- like production or the digital printing. I live in Houston, so 42K isn’t bad but they always leave after a year or two for other jobs oil and gas design jobs.

But the pay rates all over are inconsistent.

For example I’ve been offered a few jobs over the years from oil and gas CEOs that wanted a designer who knew their branding and printing processes at mid 50’s. They were unwilling to pay me any more than that. My wife is an electrical engineer for one of the largest companies in the US who starts EE’s out at 95K a year (well over the average) but they want GD’s with 5+ experience, a bachelor’s degree, want’s them to relocate- all for mid 40’s.

My best friend is a “graphic designer” with an associate’s degree (workforce degree in graphic design) who designs terminal screens for vending machines and ATM machines who makes $80k+ year. She got lucky with a software startup and I would consider her a UI designer, but their title is graphic designer.

I started my current job at $65,000 a year which is what it said on glassdoor at the time (3 years of experience at the time, but I lied and said I had 6 + I would be managing the website which I haven’t actually touched in 6 years). This is my 8th year at this job and I’ve gotten $2/h raises every year plus a $5,000k Christmas bonus. You can do the math if you want. My boss plans to retire in 3 years and expects me to find my replacement by then and then have me take over his roll. That’s how I beat the statistics.

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I think he’s using the published US government pay rates by classification.

You know, other things about government jobs that aren’t reflected in the relatively low salaries are the benefits, like matching 401(k) plans, good health insurance, educational assistance and nice retirement pensions.

One strategy for making money in this field is to start out as a graphic designer, then use those skills to transition into higher-paying, more specialized but related fields where design expertise is important but not the only function of the job.

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