Comparing total compensation for Art Director that have Include all inside Include all
National Median
25% earn less
50% earn less
75% earn less
  • 90 NUMBER OF RESPONDENTS
  • $100 REPORTED MEDIAN FREELANCE RATE
  • FREELANCE RESPONDENTS
Results for solo designers are provided in a separate table. PDF

Select observations about our profession

  • 65%
    of communication designers are involved in web design
    25%
    of freelancers working with an agency receive benefits
    51%
    of designers work only for local clients
  • 4%
    Premium in median annual salary from earning an MFA over a BFA
    60%
    Premium in median annual salary earned by an interactive designer in Seattle over Austin
    25%
    Premium in median annual salary earned by an art director in New York over national median
  • 48%
    of studios and agencies have fewer than 10 employees
    54%
    of design professionals are female
    14%
    of professional designers identify themselves as ethnic minorities
  • 3 YEARS
    Median number of years in current job, same employer
    66%
    of freelancers work with a staffing agency
    10—19 YEARS
    Level of experience aligned with highest compensation levels
  • 65%
    of design firms are involved in multi-disciplinary practice (print, web, mobile and motion)
    36%
    Compensation premium for mobile interface designers who work on own as consultants rather than on staff
    59%
    of designers receive employer-provided health insurance
  • 29%
    of designers receive education and professional development support from employers
    40s
    Highest earning years, on average

Median total cash compensation

2011
2012

Annual rate

About

The AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries is the most comprehensive annual survey of compensation data for the communication design profession in the United States. Each year, for more than a decade, it has been commissioned by AIGA, the professional association for design, with the support of Aquent, AIGA’s official sponsor for professional development, and in cooperation with Communication Arts magazine. This survey is part of a comprehensive program of AIGA activities developed to serve the professional designer with strategies for success.

AIGA is the professional association for design, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing design as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force. Founded in 1914, AIGA today serves more than 22,000 members through 66 chapters and 200 student groups across the United States. AIGA stimulates thinking about design, demonstrates the value of design and empowers the success of designers at each stage of their careers.

Aquent is the only global staffing company dedicated to creative, marketing and digital roles exclusively for Fortune 1000 companies. The world’s most renowned global brands come to Aquent for high-caliber freelance talent. Its new division, Vitamin T, provides small, mid-sized and ad agency clients with faster, easier access to in-demand interactive talent. Aquent and Vitamin T have built an impressive global network of marketing and creative services professionals, including print and interactive designers, UX designers and developers, copywriters, brand managers, market researchers and more.

Methodology

This survey was conducted on behalf of AIGA, the professional association for design, and its partners, Aquent and Communication Arts magazine, as part of a comprehensive program of activities to serve the professional designer by providing sources of inspiration and strategies for success.

The AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries for 2012 draws on an extensive pool of designers and others allied with the profession and includes responses from more than 8,000 design professionals.

The survey was conducted on AIGA’s behalf by Readex Research, an independent research company in Stillwater, Minnesota.

The survey was administered exclusively via the internet. The sampling frame included emailable individuals from a variety of list sources: AIGA’s current and past members, recent AIGA contacts (from conference registrations, inquiries, etc.), lists of clients and talent supplied by Aquent and domestic subscribers of Communication Arts magazine. These combined lists represented a total of 54,698 unduplicated individuals at the time of sample selection. All of these individuals were invited to participate in the survey.

The Survey of Design Salaries has been conducted since 2000 using the same survey, in order to facilitate trending. However, based on feedback from survey respondents and users of the data, the 2011 survey instrument was changed to refine position definitions and expand the number of positions studied, with the goal of better representing current industry conditions. The 2012 survey instrument is very similar to the 2011 version. The survey instrument was designed jointly by AIGA and Readex Research. All materials production, respondent contact, data capture and validation and tabulation were handled by Readex.

Insights from AIGA’s executive director

The AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries 2012 continues AIGA’s move toward increasing our members’ participation in all AIGA activities with its new interactive format. The survey began more than two decades ago as an expensive source of data, usually acquired only by employers seeking to gauge their own competitiveness. More than ten years ago, AIGA and Aquent partnered to make the results available to all AIGA members (with the top-line results available to all designers). Now, listening closely to our members, AIGA seeks to make the survey even more valuable to members through presentation format and interactivity, as well as the opportunities it offers for custom research.

For methodological reasons, results for solo designers are reported in a separate table and not in the salary calculator. PDF

The survey reveals what is actually paid in the marketplace; it is not a recommendation on pay scales. As a matter of principle, AIGA takes the position that design is never valued highly enough. Yet the difficult truth is that design compensation has not increased—nor even kept up with inflation—for several years.

In terms of overall trends, it is possible to summarize the dynamics of the larger job market and their implications for design practices in the same terms we used last year, for the recession has continued its stubborn suppression of economic growth in the design economy.

Design salaries have remained relatively flat for several years. Many design firms consider themselves as busy as ever, although margins are narrower than they were in the past. There are indications that firms are busy because they have not replaced workers who had been released during the start of the recession. Among in-house design departments, a considerable proportion of work that was once undertaken internally has been outsourced in order to reduce headcounts.

The result has been an increase in the use of freelance and contract employees, whose availability has held compensation increases in check. In addition, approximately 12,000 students of communication design graduate from four-year programs each year—more than can be absorbed into the current workforce.

Design leaders are expressing strong optimism—as seen in the Design Leaders Confidence Index—that the design economy is improving, with the possibility of increased hiring and compensation adjustments. One of the reasons for this optimism is that many businesses responded to the recession first by cutting costs; now, as they seek to position themselves for a recovery, they realize they must invest in product and message differentiation—aided principally by design. The timing of this increased demand, already visible in some larger firms, will depend upon a broader acceptance that the Great Recession has bottomed out—a turning point that even economists are reluctant to declare yet.

The positions reflecting increasing compensation appear to be those that revolve around defining or managing the integration of design into business strategy: strategists, usability experience and operations management; or those roles that deal with web, motion and interactive design. There are also some patterns emerging: those in corporate departments, with the best benefit packages, are also seeing stronger compensation growth; controlling only for gender, women seem not to be earning as much as their male counterparts; there does not seem to be a noticeable premium paid for higher levels of education; and it appears that young graduates’ familiarity with technology’s tools may trump experience, since increased experience does not correlate strongly with income growth.

AIGA’s membership distribution is also changing. Fifty-seven percent of members are located in corporate design departments; only 22 percent are in firms, agencies and independent studios. The balance can be found in non-traditional settings like architectural firms, nonprofits or web development firms. Independent design firms remain small, with 48 percent of these studios having fewer than 10 employees.

In addition to the survey’s role in informing the design community, AIGA looks for trends in the data that warrant new programs to support the profession’s progression toward stronger relevance, leadership and opportunity. This year, AIGA will focus on professional development programs, building programs that support the career development of women and mid-level designers and creating even greater awareness of the value of design among business, government and the public.

While the survey provides a measure of compensation during 2011, it does not reveal the most important truth: never before has design been so clearly recognized for its role in enhancing the future competitiveness of the U.S. economy. Business, society and government realize that creativity, innovation, simplicity and clarity are critical to the nation’s future well-being, and designers will play the most important role in bringing these advantages to bear. This realization—and the deep passion designers have for bringing head, heart and hand to problem solving—assures the long-term strength of the profession.

Richard Grefé

Advice from survey respondents

  • It is critical to concentrate on our core value to our clients.  It isn’t production, service or art. It is solving problems and meeting business goals.

    The more we can understand and embrace how clients value design, the more we can meet those needs...and succeed (in careers, salaries and longevity).

    Steve Liska

    Liska + Associates

    Chicago, IL

  • It’s a fallacy to think that just showing up at the office every day is enough to be successful or valued. Designers must think about opportunities to increase their skills and grow in relation to the firm’s expectations of them. Every once in a while, a rare person comes along with lots of energy and motivation to contribute to the success of an organization. These are the employees who actually do get raises, bonuses, increased responsibility and mentoring.

    Lynda Decker

    President and Creative Director

    Decker Design, Inc.

  • Think of design as your foundation, not just your destination. Employers want designers who understand the worlds (and disciplines) that touch design. Become cross-functional in digital and strategy. Become a “designer+”—a designer with specialized knowledge in other areas—to make yourself more marketable in this economy and the next.

    Robin Tooms

    Principal, Vice President, Strategy

    SAVAGE | Branding + Corporate Design

    Houston, TX

  • Design is holding its own in a financial environment that is all about metrics. Look at the challenges of the financial rewards today as a moment in a long professional career and be prepared... The design world will be even better—and it will be different.

    Steve Liska

    Liska + Associates

    Chicago, IL

  • Seek out opportunities to do extra work. Good designers design a lot.

    Lynda Decker

    President and Creative Director

    Decker Design, Inc.

  • Having design talent is now simply table stakes. 

    A valuable employee must:

    1. Understand “why,” not just “how” 2. Write and articulate well 3. Be comfortable with and able to organize complexity 4. Present information in a simple, understandable manner 5. Be able to work with and communicate with others 6. Live design, not just work in design 7. Think like an owner

    Bart Crosby

    Crosby Associates

    Chicago, IL

  • Salaries are often a result of the economy. While businesses are becoming more “design aware,” teams are still lean and access to designers has become more abundant. Now is the time to think about investing in new skills and positioning yourself better for the long term.

    Robin Tooms

    Principal, Vice President, Strategy

    SAVAGE | Branding + Corporate Design

    Houston, TX

  • Art, business, culture and technology are constantly changing and shifting in terms of professional development and worth. Stay focused, continually evolve and enjoy what you do. 

    Steve Liska

    Liska + Associates

    Chicago, IL

Position Descriptions

Account Manager
An account manager is responsible for client interactions and account management without supervisory responsibility.

Account Services Director
An account services director is responsible for client interactions and direction of a staff of project managers to ensure that design execution remains on strategy.

Art Director
The art director establishes the conceptual and stylistic direction for design staff and orchestrates their work, as well as the work of production artists, photographers, illustrators, prepress technicians, printers and anyone else who is involved in the development of a project. The art director generally selects vendors and, if there isn’t a creative director on staff, has final creative authority.

Chief Design Officer
A chief design officer is a member of a company’s executive-level team who sets the overall strategy, vision and direction of the design capability; is responsible for multiple categories of products and disciplines of design; is responsible for organizational development of design including innovation and design sourcing strategies; and ensures that design objectives are matched to strategic corporate intent. This role also includes vendor and talent recruiting, development and leadership.

Creative or Design Director
A creative or design director is responsible for communicating strategic goals into actionable design solutions, establishing the conceptual and stylistic direction for design staff and orchestrating their work, as well as the work of production professionals. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, industrial, interaction, motion, video, research/strategic, 3-D design, prototyping, interior design, environmental design or for print media or use on the web. Creative/design directors typically engage in a good deal of supervisory and administrative work. The role ensures the right resources are in place, from designers to developers to copywriters and more, so that the interactive produced is visually compelling and able to drive revenues.

Design Manager
A design manager is a manager of people and processes necessary in the development of design projects for a business unit or product category. The role involves design organization responsibility including staff coaching; managing internal and external design resources; project and budget management; and ensuring customer requirements are met.

Designer, primarily web/interactive
A designer, primarily web/interactive is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for creating and executing design concepts as well as maintaining visual appearance, usability and brand continuity. Areas of work include digital, interaction and motion design.

Designer, primarily print
A designer, primarily print is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with the print medium. They are responsible for creating and executing design concepts as well as maintaining visual appearance, usability and brand continuity. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, research/strategic, environmental design primarily for print media.

Designer, print and web/interactive
A designer, print and web/interactive is a designer whose work is about equally split between print and web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for creating and executing design concepts as well as maintaining visual appearance, usability and brand continuity. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, interaction, research/strategic, or environmental design for print media or digital delivery.

Executive Producer
An executive producer is a manager responsible for running an entire motion design studio, developing executive-level client relationships, and identifying and expanding strategic development of new business.

Head of Production
A head of production is responsible for managing and coordinating an entire production department.

Information Architect
An information architect is a designer who applies user-centered research concepts and techniques to organize websites and applications to best support the needs of users, through the development of navigation, labeling and searching systems that make it easy for users to find what they are looking for.

Junior Designer, primarily web/interactive
A junior designer, primarily web/interactive is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with web/interactive mediums. They are a designer up to three years out of school who needs supervision in all aspects of design conception and implementation. Areas of work include digital, interaction and motion design.

Junior Designer, primarily print
A junior designer, primarily print is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with the print medium. They are a designer up to three years out of school who needs supervision in all aspects of design conception and implementation. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, research/strategic, environmental design primarily for print media.

Junior Designer, print and web/interactive
A junior designer, print and web/interactive is a designer whose work is about equally split between print and web/interactive mediums. They are a designer up to three years out of school who needs supervision in all aspects of design conception and implementation. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, interaction, research/strategic, or environmental design for print media or digital delivery.

Marketing or New Business Manager/Director
A marketing or new business manager or director is responsible for seeking business opportunities, developing proposals and/or marketing the firm’s practices.

Mobile App Developer
A mobile app developer specializes in designing interactive experiences for an increasing variety of mobile platforms utilizing emerging technologies including Java, Objective-C, C++ and HTML/CSS.

Mobile Interface Designer
A mobile interface designer is a designer responsible for designing mobile web solutions, from icons to sitemaps and navigational models, for a range of devices.

Motion Graphics Designer/Animator
A motion graphics designer/animator is a designer who creates moving imagery for immersive experiences across digital platforms; possible expertise in Adobe Flash, ActionScript or Flex, illustration or 3-D modeling.

Motion/Video Editor
A motion/video editor is an editor responsible for organizing and executing post-production of motion-based imagery and design projects and for finalizing the presentation of material to clients.

Operations Director
An operations director works for a mid-sized or larger firm and is responsible for issues related to financial management, human resources, contracts and legal matters, technology resources and facilities. The operations director oversees project management and makes sure there is a very close connection between project-level finances and the overall performance of the company. All financial and administrative staff report directly to the operations director.

Owner, Partner or Principal
An owner, partner or principal holds an equity position and has major business responsibility for a firm having employees.

Producer, primarily web/interactive
A producer, primarily web/interactive is a producer for whom a majority of their work is with web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for overseeing the planning, management and delivery of projects from concept through completion by working externally, interfacing with clients and helping them navigate key milestones; and internally, with creative directors, designers and animators through all project phases.

Producer, primarily print
A producer, primarily print is a producer for whom a majority of their work is with the print medium. They are responsible for overseeing the planning, management and delivery of projects from concept through completion by working externally, interfacing with clients and helping them navigate key milestones; and internally, with creative directors, designers and animators through all project phases.

Producer, print and web/interactive
A producer, print and web/interactive is a producer whose work is about equally split between print and web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for overseeing the planning, management and delivery of projects from concept through completion by working externally, interfacing with clients and helping them navigate key milestones; and internally, with creative directors, designers and animators through all project phases.

Production Manager
A production manager is responsible for running the process of producing design projects, overseeing bids, production schedules and delivery.

Project Manager, primarily web/interactive
A project manager, primarily web/interactive is a manager for whom a majority of their work is with web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for coordination and administration of individual web and interactive projects which may include: scheduling, developing budgets, procurement and acting as liaison between the client and the design team. Areas of work include digital, interaction and motion design.

Project Manager, primarily print
A project manager, primarily print is a manager whom a majority of their work is with the print medium. They are responsible for coordination and administration of individual print projects which may include: scheduling, developing budgets, procurement and acting as liaison between the client and the design team. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, research/strategic, environmental design primarily for print media.

Senior Designer, primarily web/interactive
A senior designer, primarily web/interactive is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with the web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for conceptualization and design of solutions to their completion. In some firms, a senior designer directs the work of one or more junior designers. In some cases, senior designers do not manage staff but are designated “senior” because of their authority in design decision making. Areas of work include digital, interaction and motion design.

Senior Designer, primarily print
A senior designer, primarily print is a designer for whom a majority of their work is with the print medium. They are responsible for conceptualization and design of solutions to their completion. In some firms, a senior designer directs the work of one or more junior designers. In some cases, senior designers do not manage staff but are designated “senior” because of their authority in design decision making. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, research/strategic, environmental design primarily for print media.

Senior Designer, print and web/interactive
A senior designer, print and web/interactive is a designer whose work is about equally split between print and web/interactive mediums. They are responsible for conceptualization and design of solutions to their completion. In some firms, a senior designer directs the work of one or more junior designers. In some cases, senior designers do not manage staff but are designated “senior” because of their authority in design decision making. Areas of work may include: branding, graphics, communications, interaction, research/strategic, or environmental design for print media or digital delivery.

Social Media or Online Community Manager
A social media or online community manager is a professional responsible for developing and executing a clearly defined social media strategy, and for evaluating, planning, organizing, managing and contributing to all social media channels.

Solo Designer
A solo designer is a freelance or self-employed design professional who works independently of a company and has no employees.

Strategy Director or Design Strategist
A strategy director or design strategist is responsible for the overall strategic direction of client initiatives through the research and development phase, in which a clear understanding of end user’s or target audience’s needs is gained, to the execution phase, where findings are applied to create solutions. This position would include design or account planning.

Usability Analyst/Researcher/Engineer
A usability analyst/researcher/engineer informs business strategy and design approach by applying user-centered research concepts and techniques to understand the needs of users and how those needs can be best satisfied.

User Experience Designer
A user experience designer is a designer with expertise in human factors that impact interactive experiences. Skills include: user analysis, wireframing, prototyping, architecture and interaction modeling, persona development, writing and graphic illustration.

Web Content Strategist
A web content strategist is responsible for planning content creation, delivery and governance. Tasks may include: web editorial strategies, guidelines, content analysis including metadata, taxonomy and search engine optimization. Often works with a writer.

Web Developer (front-end/interface systems)
A web developer (front-end/interface systems) is a software engineer responsible for utilizing any number of web technologies and scripting languages to create sites based on illustrations, wireframes, HTML markup and CSS provided by the design team.

Web Programmer/Developer (back-end systems)
A web programmer/developer (back-end systems) is a back-end developer/programmer responsible for working with web server systems, databases, web applications and APIs.

Web-based Rich Media and Motion Graphics Developer
A web-based rich media and motion graphics developer is a designer/developer working in scripting languages (such as ActionScript or JavaScript) to develop rich, immersive experiences such as online advertising, games, landing pages and dynamic websites.

Writer/Copywriter
A writer/copywriter is responsible for writing, editing and proofing message and story copy for print or interactive projects. Writers may also be responsible for strategic and conceptual development of messages and stories.