This blog was originally published on Workamajobs!
It’s no secret that ours is the age of design. Ever since Steve Jobs placed design at the heart of the experience at Apple, there has been a burgeoning demand for better design.
What used to be once at the periphery of customer experience is now at its very center. From packages to products, there is little in business today that doesn’t demand a designer’s touch.
Being a designer can be massively rewarding – professionally and personally. It’s a rare profession where your work has the potential to be seen and used by millions of people. The financial perks aren’t half bad either – good designers are among the best paid professionals these days.
Maybe you’re completely new to design. Or maybe you have posters of Jony Ive and Saul Bass in your bedroom. Regardless of where you stand in your design journey, this guide will give you a roadmap to building a design career.
We’ve divided this guide into three sections as follows:
- Overview: This section will give you an overview of the design field, including salaries and future outlook.
- Foundation: This section will help you understand the fundamentals behind building a design career better
- Education: We’ll help you pick the right education path to become a designer in this final section
Let’s dig in!
Section I: Overview of Design as a Career Choice
The design field is often misunderstood and misrepresented. To a layman, design is often just the way a thing looks. This understanding skips over the real purpose of design: to impact how things work.
So in this section, we’ll do a deep dive into design. We’ll help you understand the design field better and give you real reasons to pick it as a career.
What is Design?
The design school at UIC defines design as follows:
“Design is about progress. It is the conceptualization and creation of new things: ideas, interactions, information, objects, typefaces, books, posters, products, places, signs, systems, services, furniture, websites, and more.”
This definition is purposefully vague and expansive. Design can be about anything. If you’re creating or conceptualizing something new, you are essentially designing it. A guy painting signboards is as much a designer as a Tom Ford or a Frank Shepard Fairey.
What separates design from art is purpose. Unlike art, you don’t “design for design’s sake”. A designer’s work has clear intent and goals.
As the great designer Massimo Vignelli once said, design is utilitarian.
Image source: TheFutur
More often than not, design involves communicating a message and turning it into action. When a designer creates a road sign, for instance, he has a definite goal:
- To warn or notify you about something (“bridge ahead” or “school ahead”)
- To get you to act on the message (“slow down; there is a school ahead”)
This is the same for a UI/UX designer creating a computer alert message, or a graphic designer creating a Christmas sales promotion. The designers in these cases want to tell you about something and, through effective communication, turn it into action.
Essentially, design is a form of conversion. You communicate something (an emotion, a message, or even a sales promo), and convert it into something tangible (a sale, a donation, a positive brand experience).
Thus, a more succinct definition of design would be:
Why Choose Design as a Career Option?
Design is a unique field in that it combines the creative satisfaction of art with the financial rewards of an in-demand skill. A skilled designer not only gets to create meaningful work that might be used by millions every day, he also gets paid well for it.
Think of it as being an artist, without the starving bit.
There are financial and creative reasons to pick a career in design. We’ll explore all of these below.
Design Salaries and Jobs Outlook
Designers rank among the most sought-after professionals today. Salaries, however, vary a great deal, ranging from mid five-figures for less technically skilled fields (such as graphic design) to six-figures for UI/UX design.
Broadly speaking, salaries go up the more technical the design field is. Salaries are also aligned with how “close” you are to the customer’s product experience.
For instance, a UX designer’s work in an app is directly used by people every day. A graphic designer creating promotions for the app is abstracted and distant from actual users. Thus, graphic designers get paid less than UX designers.
To give you a rough idea, here’s a quick look at salaries for various design fields according to the Creative Group’s annual salary guidelines:
- Graphic designer (1-3 years): $39,750–$56,750
- Graphic designer (5+ years): $67,500–$93,000
- Package designer: $59,500–$91,000
- Visual designer: $66,000–$99,250
- Front-end web developer (3+ years): $80,000–$119,500
- Web designer (5+ years): $83,250–$118,000
- Interaction designer (5+ years): $88,250–$124,500
- UX designer (1–3 years): $52,000–$79,500
- UX designer (5+ years): $92,750–$138,000
As you can see, salaries range greatly, stretching from $39,750 for a starting graphic designer to $138,000 for an experienced UX designer. Technically skilled design fields such as interaction design get paid more than broad, unspecific design fields such as graphic design.
Salaries are also a function of your location. UI/UX jobs tend to be clustered around tech centers such as San Francisco, NYC, etc. which have higher cost of living.
Salaries for such roles are also inflated by the presence of large tech companies paying above industry average wages. Google, for instance, pays its UX designers $122,204 on average.
(Image Source: Glassdoor)
Design is financially rewarding regardless of your location or specialty. A career in design also opens up opportunities to progress to roles such as “art director”, who are even more richly rewarded (median pay of $92,500 as per BLS).
But it’s not just wages; demand for designers is also on the up.
Businesses are beginning to realize the impact design can have on their bottom line. One study by DMI found that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P by 228% over a 10 year period.
More and more businesses are pivoting to adopt design. IBM, for instance, recently moved to increase its ratio of designers to developers to 1:9 from 1:72 earlier.
In fact, demand for design talent is even higher in top-tier companies. Design in Tech Report found that top tech employers such as Google, Amazon, Facebook are on a hiring spree and increased design headcount by 65% in 2017 alone.
This is the reason why World Economic Forum ranked design-related jobs as one of the top 8 most in-demand professions by 2020.
Which is to say, picking a career in design will help you make money, land plenty of job offers, and keep your job safe for the future.
Not a bad deal, right?