HOW Magazine’s 2010 Design Survey: Salaries are Down, but it’s not All Bad

From July 2008 to July 2010, over 1,500 designers shared details of their salaries with HOW. According to HOW Magazine’s 2010 design salary survey, the average national salary for designers dropped slightly (-1.5%) from 2008 figures to $49,753. If you’re a designer, does this decrease mean that you should worry  about the demand for your services? The good news is that it’s not all that bad.

“Graphic designers and production artists are in huge demand right now,” says Donna Farrugia, executive director of The Creative Group. For Donna, all signs are pointing to an approaching growth and hiring phase. According to a recent hiring index by The Creative Group, 6% of marketing and advertising managers planned to expand their staff in the third quarter of 2010. Up more than 5% since the second quarter, this is a good indication that growth and hiring may be in an upswing. The survey’s “Specialty Areas in Demand” include print design/production, web design/production and creative/art direction.

$2,200 average salary increase

Additionally , designers who were fortunate enough to see a salary increase saw an average of about $2,200. Creative directors showed a modest increase in pay (+3.9%), bringing their average annual salary to about $70,600. The increase likely due to both their experience and an ability to concept on-demand. Web designers also showed an increase in salary growth (+3.4%), bringing the average annual salary of this group to about $51,300. As a need for knowledgeable, creative web designers continues to be a demand, this figure should only continue to increase.

Male Designers still make about $1,600 more than their female counterparts annually.

And now for some bad news. The 2010 survey indicates a continuing disparity between the incomes of female designers and their male counterparts. According to the 2008 survey, female designers on average made nearly $5,400 less than their male peers. While this figure shows improvement in the 2010 survey, male designers still make about $1,600 more than their female counterparts annually. Cash bonuses for designers are also down an approximately $200 in 2010, but only 46% of participants reported receiving bonuses this year.

The average salary of designers living in southern states is down 8.5% while designers working in NYC made 18% more on average than in 2008 .

Geography seems to be a large factor in determining a designer’s salary as both the demand for services and the cost of living play influential roles. While the salaries of designers working in the North Central and Southern areas of the country make anywhere between $45,000 to $49,000, their counterparts working in larger cities on the east and west coast make significantly more. The average salary of designers working in New York City is up over 18% since last year ($63,056). Furthermore, while designers working in San Francisco may have seen a 6% drop in compensation this year, the average salary of $55,772 remains amongst the highest in the nation behind New York City ($63,056). Designers living in southern states appear to have suffered the most this past year, with salaries down 8.5%, bringing their average annual salary to approximately $45,500.

Freelancers’ average annual salaries are down 9% since 2008.

How much designers are paid is also influenced largely by what type of organization they work for. For the purpose of the survey, HOW grouped designers into four groups indicated by workplace: In-house, Design Firm, Ad Agency and Freelancer. The average salary of these four groups comes in at $48,988. Who’s making the most, you ask? Creatives working at Design Firms are currently averaging a salary of just over $51,000 (+3.2%). Unfortunately, it’s just the reverse for Freelancers, whose average annual salaries are down 9% since 2008. Representing the lowest average annual salary in the group ($47,394), it’s likely that freelancers’ have suffered more from the recession than these other groups due to clients’ shrinking budgets and difficulties finding new ones.

Entry-level designers suffered a 3.9% drop in pay.

As in other fields, it goes without saying that experience has shown to be the largest factor in determining how much a designer can presume to make in his/her field. HOW divided survey participants into seven groups, determined by their title: Principal, Partners or Owners, Creative Directors, Art Directors, Senior Designers, Designers, Entry-level Designers/Production Artists and Web Designers. The survey shows that while Entry-level Designers make understandably less than more experienced, senior level designers, they also suffered a drop in pay this year (-3.9%), making on average just over $30,000. Principals, Partners and Owners suffered from the largest percentage drop in 2010 (nearly 12%), bringing the average annual salary of these individuals to just over $55,400.

It’s important to note that a majority of the survey respondents (35.9%) come from the Midwest/North Central region of the United States. Participants from larger cities included in the survey (San Francisco and New York City) comprise only 7.2% of the overall figures. HOW states that while the survey numbers were down in comparison to 2008’s survey, there’s a possibility that this survey may actually show a modest improvement over the last half of 2008 and the first half of 2009, signaling signs of what will hopefully be a lasting economic recovery.

Additional Links & Resources

How Are You Incorporating Design Into Your Biz In 2010?

If you could improve on the visual communications of your company today, what area of your business would you most like to see improvements in?

From what I’ve observed so far this year, many clients and prospects of mine are ‘hitting the ground running’. If this is a trend (and I hope it is) among the majority of both large and small businesses alike, individuals are beginning to realize now – more than ever, is the time to strengthen their brand in the eye of their customer base.

Many businesses out there are making strides with great success – but there’s always room for improvement. Maybe they streamlined their business practices by trimming some of the fat; Maybe they’ve taken an entirely new approach to their day-to-day operations. For those out there that are stuck on what could be done to make improvements this year, exploring the many ways visual communications can positively influence business is certainly worth some consideration.

Over the next few weeks, I’m conducting another poll which raises the question: If you could improve on the visual communications of your company today, what area of your business would you most like to see improvements in? I know there are many things I’d like to do this new year myself, so I’m wondering what others out there plan to do this year to improve on their visual communications (if anything at all). If the poll doesn’t urge you to contact a creative professional about how you can start making some improvements, then my hope is to at the very least make you pause for a moment and consider how incorporating design into your current strategy just might be that missing piece of the puzzle.

Thanks in advance for participating and I’ll look forward to sharing some findings in a future post. For some findings from other polls I’ve conducted, check out the ‘Design Polls’ part of my blog.

Coloring 2010


Love it or hate it, 15-5519 is the color of the year.

Pantone, a professional color standards provider for the design industries, selects a color out of their widely used Pantone Matching System each year, which it then declares the color of the year ahead. In case you were wondering what the color of 2010 is, it’s turquoise. The blue-green hue we all either love – or hate with a passion, was chosen in part because of the sense of tropical escape and serenity the color evokes.

“[Turquoise] is believed to be a protective talisman, a color of deep compassion and healing… turquoise also represents an escape to many – taking them to a tropical paradise that is pleasant and inviting, even if only a fantasy.” (Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute).

What is Pantone trying to say about the year ahead of us by naming what it openly regards as an “escapist color” for this new year? Is it an appropriate choice considering everything that’s happened and is currently happening around the globe? If turquoise is the color of serenity, then what’s the real color people are feeling this year?

Considering the nature and symbolism of 2009’s color of the year, this new one seems even further off the mark. Last year, Pantone chose the color Mimosa. Why? because the hue “speaks of enlightenment… a hue that sparks imagination and innovation.”… Is it too late to go back and swap colors of the year? If you ask me, 2010 is the year of innovation; 2010 is the year of persistence; 2010 is not the year we all imagine ourselves floating on the back of a boat in the Caribbean: it’s a nice notion, but I think 2010 is the year we all hunker down and working together, start digging ourselves out of the mess we’re in.

Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Pantone’s official press release here

Your Year In Review

Now that we’ve all managed to get through 2009 (sigh of relief), I suppose now it’s time for a little reflection and planning for the new year. If you’re anything like me, I often overshadow the successes I’ve had with what I’ve failed to or have not yet accomplished. Maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to start being a little more optimistic. In 2010, there’s a lot of things I’d like to personally do differently to bring more success and growth to my business as well as my personal life, so when I came across Peleg Top’s (Founder of Top Design & Co-Founder of Marketing Mentor) blog entry aptly titled Reflect, Review and Plan, I knew I had found a good stepping stone.

Peleg’s entry focuses primarily on reflecting on the year behind us, reviewing what went both good and bad in our personal and professional lives, and then planning for the year to come. Peleg challenges us to answer a variety of questions about the past year, including “What were my successes?”; “What did I accomplish that I am most proud of?” and “What mistakes did I make?”. Then, he asks us to create some intentions – not resolutions – to nurture growth in both our personal and professional lives through the new year.

I belive that if we’re to move forward, then we have to have an understanding of what we’ve left behind, and this piece by Peleg is a way to do just that. So, as you plan for the year ahead of you, make sure you take some time to both reflect and review the year behind you.

Good luck to everyone in the new year!

Peleg’s Blog entry Here