Of all the disciplines in tech, those who dedicate themselves to graphic design may be among the least-rewarded, at least in comparison to some other professionals. As with many other tech roles, skills and location can play a part in graphic designer salary.
To help guide this study, we’re using the Dice Salary Calculator. We also kept it really simple: we only parsed ‘Graphic Designer’ as a job title, and limited the search to designers with five years’ experience. We also used Silicon Valley as our base reference, as it’s home to so many tech companies.
Just as in our Java Developer study, we see a wide graphic designer salary range. There’s roughly a $15,000 variance between low and high-end salaries, which is actually fairly good; our Java developer analysis showed gaps of $20,000 or more.
Perhaps more than any other discipline in tech, graphic designer salary is dependent on skills. We’ve noted before that skills are the best way to level-up your salary, and that’s especially true here. While we typically see the addition of a few abilities spike a salary by a decent 5-7 percent, a graphic designer with mastery of certain skills such as FrameMaker or the (discontinued, but still used) Adobe Fireworks can level up their salary by a striking amount. (Typically, one or two developer skills move the needle significantly; with designers, it’s more like five.)
As you can see, some places are better than others. New York has a high concentration of web developers and designers, so the graphic designer salary range is a bit more attractive there. Los Angeles has a lot of designers, and the low-end pay is a touch better. We also see that Washington, D.C. might be a location to avoid; luckily, nearby Baltimore is both cheaper and more lucrative (hammering that point home is data from Bankrate’s cost of living calculator).
When we compared the top metro areas on our Dice Salary Survey, and used a top-level Silicon Valley salary as our base, some interesting trends emerged: Baltimore, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Denver each leave designers with a $20,000-plus surplus, when salary is run against the cost of living. A designer could have the same quality of life in those areas with a salary nearer $30,000 per year.
If we were in an advisory role, we’d say look to Minneapolis, Denver, or Dallas for Graphic Designer jobs. All three are great tech metro areas on their own, and have a low cost of living compared to San Francisco or New York.
Above all, we suggest picking up skills. Simply being proficient in motion and 3D rendering will earn you an eight-percent bump in pay. Listing Adobe Creative Cloud – a tool most (if not all) graphic designers use – as a skill gets an immediate two percent increase. Specialize!