This is the average design leader’s salary in 2021

4 min read
Brittany Anas
  •  Apr 15, 2021
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With remote work’s rise over the past year, companies can now recruit design talent from anywhere in the world. This monumental shift in hiring norms raises novel questions: Do companies pay enough to compete for talent in a global market? Do companies compensate their best design leaders well enough to stay?

Based upon feedback from the Design Leadership Forum, a members-only group of more than 3,200 design leaders, InVision set out to find an answer. They asked 600 global design leaders across 38 industries to disclose their real salary numbers, and, after analysis, found that the 2021 average design leader base salary is $168,000. Their findings are published in a new report, which also analyzes the data by industry, gender, race, operating model (remote/co-located/etc), and happiness.

Here, the report’s three most interesting salary trends:

Media and tech pay design leaders the most 

Not surprisingly, the years of experience was the most important variable to a design leader’s pay. Design leaders can expect to earn their highest salary—an average of $208,526—in their 25th year, up from $179,078 at year 20.

But pay varies widely by industry. Industries just now experiencing digital transformation (like health care and finance) tend to compensate their design leaders less than early adopters. Here’s an industry breakdown of pay:

  • Media: $176,250
  • Technology: $175,460
  • Healthcare: $164,625
  • Finance: $161,565
  • Retail: $160,806
  • Consulting: $159,064
  • Agency: $150,645
  • Other: $144,642
  • Advertising: $139,213
  • Hospitality: $135,625

Gender and racial pay gaps persist 

The report finds that race and gender still impact salary, particularly within the tech industry. Men hold nearly seven in 10 design leadership roles in tech. Across industries, men earn an average of $3,000 more than women. In tech, though, men in design leadership earn an average of $179,000 compared to women’s $169,000.

Race affects salary even more than gender—and the pay gaps can be massive despite years of experience. White design leaders on average earn $171,065 a year, compared to the average Asian design leader’s $149,592 and the average Hispanic design leader’s $142,121. The average Black design leader earns $125,108. On average, too, they had less experience than their white counterparts, suggesting they’re getting in the door later than their white counterparts. (As a telling note, too, Black representation in the survey was so small that the findings are statistically insignificant.)

There’s a consistent salary gap between happy vs. unhappy design leaders 

As companies transform, the digital customer experience at stores, restaurants, banks, doctor’s offices becomes more important than ever. That means organizations should value designers’ roles more than ever. But how much does it take to separate happy design leaders from unhappy ones? $30,000, according to the new report. The gap is consistent, too, regardless of industry or title average.

Want more?

Check out the full report for data you can use to start conversations that foster transparency and help close the disparity gaps in pay.

Read the full report

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