A picture is worth a thousands words, and few careers exemplify this more than graphic design. Graphic designers take the thoughts and ideas of their clients and transform them into visual images. Those with a real knack for design even create images that turn average consumers into loyal customers. A bachelor’s degree in graphic design is often essential, but creativity and ingenuity can take you a long way — not to mention, improve your earning potential.
In 2011, graphic designers earned an average of $48,690 a year, or $23.41 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the median wage was closer to $44,010 a year, or $21.16 an hour. While this median figure reflects about half of all designers, 10 percent of these professionals earned $26,210 a year or less.
As experience increases, so do salaries, and graphic designers are no exception. The Creative Group, a national recruiter for interactive, design and marketing talent, has determined that designers with one to three years of experience average $36,500 to $50,750 a year. Those with three to five years earn $47,500 to $65,500 a year, while five or more years of experience can increase salaries to anywhere between $59,500 and $80,750 a year.
On top of experience, a designer’s discipline can affect her salary. A 2012 survey conducted by AIGA, the professional association for design, found that designers working primarily in print media average about $45,000 a year. Those working in web and interactive media, on the other hand, earn more, averaging $55,000 a year. The highest paid designers are those working in motion graphics, where salaries average around $65,000 a year.
Besides experience and discipline, location influences earning potential. Graphic designers in Los Angeles, for example, earn salaries almost 25 percent higher than the national average. The same can also be said for these design professionals in Boston, where salaries are a whopping 32 percent higher than average. Those in St. Cloud, Minnesota, however, don’t fare as well, earning salaries almost 23 percent less that average. But the local variances are a reflection of the cost of living, so it all averages out in the end.
2016 Salary Information for Graphic Designers
Graphic designers earned a median annual salary of $47,640 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, graphic designers earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,560, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $63,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 266,300 people were employed in the U.S. as graphic designers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011: Graphic Designers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Graphic Designers
- The Creative Group 2012 Salary Guide
- AIGA: Aquent Survey of Design Salaries 2012
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Graphic Designers
- Career Trend: Graphic Designers
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.