It’s Been a Slow—But Promising—Year of Growth for Design Careers

Filed Under: AIGA Insight , compensation


 AIGA executive director Richard Grefé offers his insights on the findings of the 2014 Survey of Design Salaries.

The roles of design and designers have probably never been more evident in the global discussion of competitiveness, growth and innovation. Where designers were once defined by narrow roles reinforced by the profession's own emphasis on limiting modifiers (e.g, "graphic," "environmental," "editorial," "corporate identity," "branding"), today the profession—and, increasingly, business—realizes that solutions require crossing disciplines, media and forms, and are looking for designers to heed the call.

We occupy a dynamic profession, integral to the transformation of business and services, as long as we too adapt. AIGA is determined to play an important role in supporting the professional development of every member, particularly in ways that strengthen designers' understanding of the exceedingly complex economic, social and environmental context of the problems they’re being asked to solve. The steady evolution of the design profession makes it one of the most exciting professions to be in, as every designer has the opportunity to grow into new roles and address new challenges. It also means the data on employment and compensation are in flux.

A recent New York Times article observed that the number of employed graphic designers is not recovering as quickly from the impact of the Great Recession as we had hoped. Yet other roles we now include within the evolving profession and our membership—user-experience design, interaction design, software development, etc.—continue to grow. The article's estimate of fewer than 100,000 graphic designers nationwide is also far from AIGA's analysis of government sources that suggests closer to 350,000 communication designers.

With a steady influx of 14,000 new graduates of four year design programs entering the profession each year while demand for many disciplines of design remaining relatively flat, a large number of designers are underemployed and there has been little upward pressure on wages for over a decade.​ This doesn’t mean design salaries won’t recover. In fact, designers graduating from programs that train emerging professionals in design as a strategic concept and an approach toward problem solving enter the workforce with salaries above the mean.

Successful designers in their own practices or studios continue to report that they’re working harder than ever, but doing so for narrower margins. Designers working in an integrated practice that focuses on strategy as well as design are seeing increases in compensation levels in the top quartile.

The best news probably emerges from an Adobe survey published in Co.Design: a staggering 96% of creatives are happy in their career, and 88% believe that the creative industry’s best days are yet to come. And consistent with AIGA's plan to support the profession, 80% acknowledge that they must learn new tools and techniques and three quarters believe that creatives must now work across multiple mediums and disciplines.

AIGA will be there to support this professional development in the months and years ahead, complemented by discounted access to programs from others and a tailored set of unique programs developed by AIGA.

Richard Grefé
AIGA executive director

About the Author: Richard Grefé is the director emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, the oldest and largest professional association of designers in the United States representing the interests of 27,000 designers working in a variety of communication media and dimensions, ranging from type and book designers to new media and experience designers. AIGA, o ver twenty years under Ric’s aegis, has become a leading advocate for the value of designing, as a way of thinking and as a means of creating strategic value for business, the civic realm and social change. Currently he is teaching “Human-centered designn for social change” at Wesleyan University. Ric earned a BA from Dartmouth College in economics, worked in intelligence in Asia, reported from the Bronx County Courthouse for AP, wrote for Time magazine on business and the economy and then earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Following an early career in urban design and public policy consulting, Ric managed the association responsible for strategic planning and legislative advocacy for public television and led a think tank on the future of public television and radio in Washington.