• 01.13.16

Survey: Which Design Jobs Pay The Most?

Some takeaways: Ditch graphic design and learn to code. Oh, and be a man. Ugh.

Survey: Which Design Jobs Pay The Most?
[Source photos: Flickr users Philip Taylor, waiam cia, Wikimedia Commons]

Designers earning top dollar work in UX, know how to code, and live in California. And–surprise–they’re men. Those are some of the main takeaways from O’Reilly Media’s 2016 Design Salary and Tools Survey.


Although it would be foolish to put too much weight on a survey with just 324 respondents, especially from a company largely known for publishing technical writing and software how-tos, O’Reilly’s poll provides a snapshot of the design profession that mirrors other overviews we’ve seen. The full report is gigantic, collecting data from an anonymous online survey of O’Reilly Media’s readership. For your convenience, here are some of the key points.

• The median income of designers responding to the survey was $91,000. When measuring only U.S. respondents, though, that median salary shoots up to $99,000.

• Designers in California earn the most, with a median salary of $128,000, followed by those in the Mid-Atlantic ($118,000), and then the Northeast (a little north of $100,000).

• Salaries aren’t quite as high for the rest of the world. English-speaking countries seemingly pay their designers the most, with Canada and the UK/Ireland leading the pack, followed by Asia, than Latin America. However, O’Reilly cautions that this international pay gap is probably a “quirk of the sample,” with the discrepancy between U.S. and European salaries “greater than what would be expected given national per capita income.”

• One of the most valuable skills you can learn as a designer is coding. Even with just a little expertise in coding, the average salary of a designer shot up $16,000.


• The worst paid designers? Graphic designers, who reported much lower earnings than most other respondents: a comparatively piddling median income of $49,000.

• Shocker! Women designers are paid significantly less than men: about $14,000 less per year, on average. O’Reilly claims that “about half of the $14K difference in the sample is attributable to the fact that a larger share of the sample’s men held higher positions,” but controlling for that fact, the designer gender gap results in women making around $6,000 less per year than men. There’s no silver lining to this statistic–really, there isn’t–though the gender gap is on par with the professional average in other fields.

• Although O’Reilly cautions that it may be another quirk of its sample, the survey found that UI designers, on average, earned less than UX designers. In addition, respondents who listed “manager” in their title tended to make $10,000 more, on average, than those who listed “directors,” although O’Reilly believes this was “likely influenced by more than half the managers working at companies with more than 10,000 employees while more than half the directors worked at companies with fewer than 100.”

• Experience is more important than age. Those under 30 earned around $71,000, on average, compared to $116,000 for those 36 to 50, and $94,000 for those over 50. If you had over 10 years of experience in your role, though, the median income shoots up to $114,000, compared to just $74,000 for the less-experienced.

• OS X is the most popular operating system for designers, with 88% of O’Reilly’s sample using Mac.

• 42% of all designers spend between four and eight hours in meetings per week, with 26% spending nine to 20 hours per week and 5% spending 20 hours or more per week in meeting rooms.


Check out O’Reilly Media’s full 2016 Design Salary and Tools Survey here.