There’s no place quite like the design industry. It’s where creativity and technology meet, and where innovation thrives. Design is absolutely everywhere—from the clothes we wear to the apps we use, from the cars we drive to the chairs we sit on. As a designer, you have the power to shape the world in which we live.
Not only that: design-driven businesses significantly outperform their competitors, so skilled designers are increasingly sought after. Design itself is an extremely broad umbrella, and there are many different routes you can take.
Design is one of the most challenging, fast-moving, and visionary fields to work in—and it can be financially rewarding, too. Here are seven of the of the highest-paid fields within the design industry.
1. UX design
UX design tops the list as the most lucrative field, with an average yearly salary of $96,505.
UX designers are in high demand—87 percent of hiring managers consider recruiting more UX designers to be their number-one priority.
User experience (UX) designers are ultimately responsible for enhancing customer satisfaction, making them absolutely crucial to branding and business. They conduct extensive research into the customer’s needs and use these findings to make smart design decisions. Whether the product is an app, a website, or a tangible device, the UX designer makes sure that it’s as user-friendly as possible.
“The average salary of a UX designer is $96,505.”
A job in UX incorporates elements of interaction design, visual design, information architecture and user research—and therefore calls for a very diverse skill set. On a day-to-day basis, you may find yourself devising user personas, sketching wireframes, creating prototypes, or conducting usability testing. Essentially, UX encompasses anything that impacts how the user feels when they engage with a product. Discover how to become a UX designer here.
2. Product design
Product designers also rank highly in the salary stakes, enjoying an average yearly income of $89,224.
Just about every object you encounter in daily life is the work of a product designer—from staplers and dining chairs to pens and electronics. Much like UX designers, product designers are concerned with both the aesthetics and functionality of a product, and there are many similarities in the way they work. Product designers also carry out extensive user research before sketching their ideas and blueprints using CAD software. Together with graphic designers and engineers, they then turn these sketches into prototypes, ready for testing.
When designing or redesigning an object, product designers will consider things like shape, ergonomics, size, color, and weight. They are also responsible for finding the most cost-efficient production methods, so an understanding of different materials is essential.
Product design is crucial to every industry, so there’s plenty of scope for variety. New entrants to the field usually need a degree in product design, industrial design, or engineering. Soft skills also play a major role, as communication and teamwork are key.
One of the most rewarding aspects of product design is the opportunity to innovate, which may be why it was recently voted the most appealing job for Generation Z. To find out more about this career path, read this day-in-the-life account from a product designer at Dyson.
3. UI design
UI designers rake in around $88,434 per year on average, putting them hot on the heels of their friends in UX. User interface design is, in fact, a crucial subset of UX—but it’s important to recognize that they are two separate roles.
UI design focuses on the user’s visual experience, determining how they interact with the product interface. The job of a UI designer is to design all the screens through which a user moves, and to create all the visual touchpoints and interactions that facilitate this movement. Consider a dating app where you swipe left and right, or the act of scrolling down a website—some classic UI elements.
A role in UI design offers plenty of variety, with tasks ranging from creating animations, establishing style guides, choosing the right colors and typeface, prototyping and testing. UI designers might work on apps, websites, video games and software; anything with an interface! To land a job in this highly rewarding field, consider a mentored online course in UI design.
4. Video game design
Good news for gamers with a creative flair: Video game design is the fourth highest-paid field in the industry. The average yearly salary for video game designers is $86,510, and with it comes an extremely varied and interesting workload.
Video game designers are storytellers, programmers, and visual artists all rolled into one. They are responsible for drawing up video game concepts based on the target audience, and then bringing this concept to life. This may involve developing plots and characters, creating the user interface and inputting script to generate interactive gameplay elements.
Becoming a video game designer generally requires a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer engineering, as well as some programming knowledge. Creativity and problem-solving skills are also key. Read a day in the life of a video game designer to see if this is the job for you.
5. Multimedia art and animation
Multimedia artists and animators earn $63,800 per year on average. Aside from the financial reward, this is an extremely varied field with countless potential career paths.
Multimedia artists and animators are responsible for creating the cool visual effects you see on TV, in movies, and in video games. Depending on their exact specialization, they might work on developing storyboards, creating drawings and computer graphics, and designing 3D figures and characters.
The most common route into multimedia art is a degree in 3D animation or computer graphics—but there are no hard-and-fast requirements. Above all, you need to feel at home using computer animation software, conducting project research, and presenting your ideas to key stakeholders.
If you do go down the multimedia route, you could find yourself working in TV, film, advertising, PR, or the video game industry. With a projected employment growth rate of eight percent through to 2026, this is both an interesting and steady career path.
6. Web design
Often described as the graphic designers of the digital world, web designers pocket an average $59,633 per year. They are responsible for planning, designing, and building websites, calling on a mixture of both technical and creative skills.
For a web designer, the art lies in understanding the client’s vision and turning it into a visually compelling, fully functional website. This covers a vast range of tasks, from planning the site architecture to choosing colors, layout, typography, and graphics. The web designer may also oversee the written copy and set up the domain name.
To excel in this field, you need a highly diverse skill set. One day you might be working on visual design, and the next you may be tweaking code and running tests. An understanding of content management systems, basic programming languages, visual design principles, and SEO will all come in handy.
While it’s possible to study web design, this isn’t the only way in. Employers are largely focused on practical experience and an impressive portfolio, and many web designers come from a fine art, graphic design, or software engineering background.
7. Exhibit design
Perhaps one of the lesser known professions on the list, but a well-paid one nonetheless: A career in exhibit design could see you earning an average yearly salary of $57,600. Exhibit designers are the creative geniuses behind the displays and fixtures you see at museums, galleries, conferences, and trade shows. For those who like to combine computer-based design work with off-screen application, this role provides the best of both.
The designer takes ownership of the exhibit from start to finish. After working with the client to establish a vision, they will sketch out ideas and create computer-generated models. These are then turned into prototypes which are reiterated until the final design is approved. Exhibit designers may also be involved in constructing the display onsite.
Exhibit designers have many skills. Not only are they experts in layout and design; they are also able to work within very specific spatial limitations. To become an exhibit designer, it helps to study a design-related degree such as 3D or interior design. Outstanding communication skills, solid drawing ability, and knowledge of computer-based design programs are also essential.
If you’re curious about a career in design, start by learning the fundamentals of user experience. Once you truly understand the relationship between product and user, the design industry is your oyster.
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Raffaela Rein is the CEO and co-founder of CareerFoundry, one of the leading online schools for UX training. She is dedicated to educating the next generation of digital talent; helping people build careers they love. She is passionate about the topic UX design, in particular why UX-led companies build the most successful products. Prior to CareerFoundry, Raffaela built companies for Rocket Internet and Axel Springer and worked as an investment strategist for BlackRock.