Web designer salary (and promotion information) for 2022

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March 24, 2021
5 minute read

Of all the roles in tech, web design is perhaps one of the least understood. Web design is often mistaken for web development. Despite significant similarities, web designers have their own career path - and with it their own salary ranges. In this guide, we’re diving into salaries for web designers and comparing them to other tech roles. We’re also looking into strategies that you can use to increase your earnings as a web designer.

What is web design?

Web design is the practice of making websites and technology products visually intuitive and appealing. The three most common kinds of web designers are: UX designer, UI designer, and interaction designer.

User experience designer: Also shortened to "UX," user experience designers focus on making web pages and technology usable by humans, particularly creating websites or applications that people love to use. It’s one of the most well-known jobs in tech because the user experience can make or break a technology product.

Visual / User interface design: A visual designer—also called a UI designer—will take the overarching goals of a company (or of a specific project) and create style guides that a developer will work with. They work with brand teams very closely to create a visual look and feel for the company, which then extends into how products are built and designed.

Because of the overlap between UX and UI, many companies combine the role into one—that’s why you might see a lot of “UX/UI Designer” job postings or freelance call-outs.

Interaction designer: Interaction designers take a UX designer’s plans or wireframes and think of the details: What should a button look like? What happens when you click an element on the page? How do I apply color theory to this page? This work is meant to connect the company’s goal (what they want someone to do in the app), a user friendly interface (to make the app more intuitive), and driving value for the user in the most satisfying way possible.

Curious to learn more about website design and how it fits into the tech landscape? Check out Wave’s guide on web design vs. web development.

57% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile.

How much does a web designer make?

According to Payscale, web designers in the United States make between $35,000 to $78,000+ per year, depending on years of experience.

Junior web designer salary

The average starting base salary for junior designers in the United States is around $49,000. It can grow up to $70,000 per year.

If you go into website design, your base salary will depend on a lot of factors including your skill set and previous years of experience. For example, someone fresh out of a bootcamp with no work experience may be at the lower end of the spectrum. On the other hand, someone moving into web design from another career may get a higher initial pay rate.

Senior web designer salary

Senior web designers with a few years of experience command an average salary of $60,000 - $90,000+, depending on region and niche expertise.

Web designer manager salary

Web designers who move into management are set up not only for a job title change but also for higher earnings, commanding anywhere from $73,000 - $120,000+ depending on years of experience. More junior managers are at the lower end of that range, earning between $73,000 - $100,000 annually. When you’ve proven your impact, you can earn anywhere from $85,000-$120,000+ annually.

Users spend an average of 5.94 seconds looking at a website’s main image.

Wordpress web designer salary

Wordpress is one of the most popular web builders in the world, so it’s common for some companies to explicitly hire Wordpress designers. However, because Wordpress is so ubiquitous, the average salary tends to be a bit lower: only $40,000 - $65,000 annually on average.

Freelance web designer salary

While there is no official ‘rate’ for freelance web designers, most sources suggest a benchmark $75 as a typical hourly rate. However, depending on the project complexity, freelance designers may only earn between $30 - $80 per hour.

When blogs recommend the $75 per hour starting rate, it’s usually for freelancers to ensure they can pay themselves, set aside money for taxes, and still live comfortably. However, many companies won’t pay this rate unless you have high quality experience and a good portfolio. That said, it’s possible for very experienced web designers to charge a higher rate.

Factors that affect pay rates

Here are the major factors that affect how much someone gets paid:

Geography: Major cities like Washington, DC or San Francisco are likely going to pay more (in fact, San Francisco is famous for its incredibly high tech salaries). On the flip side, a smaller city like Tulsa might pay lower average rates. This is tied both to the competition for talent in these cities but also to the cost of living.

Skills: The more skills you have, the higher pay you can ask for (and get).

Perks and other benefits: Total compensation is a critical thing to pay attention to (it's not all about salary). Some companies have really good perks - including things like a home gym membership - while others prefer to pay more but provide less.

Experience level: The more you can show that you've done, the more money you can ask for.

Web designer salaries compared to other tech professions

Web design is a decent job with decent pay, but it is not one of the higher paying roles in tech in the United States.

Web designer vs front end web developer salary

Front end web developers salaries tend to be higher than web designer salaries, ranging from $50,000 to $125,000+ annually.

Web designer vs back end web developer salary

Back end web developers make an average salary of $70,000 - $125,000+ annually depending on their years of experience, putting the salary range well above web designers. However, the two careers are very different: backend web developers often have to handle deep code-base issues that designers don’t have to worry about.

Web designer vs full stack web developer salary

Full stack web developers are renowned in the tech world for the crazy high pay they get.

The average salary for a full stack developer starts around $90,000 for newbies and goes well up into the six figures for people with experience. If you want to earn really good money and don’t mind learning to code, full-stack development could be a great path forward.

Web designer vs IT infrastructure analyst salary

IT infrastructure analysts earn similarly to web designers, with an average pay range of $49,000 to $85,000 annually.

Web designer vs mobile developer salary

Mobile developers earn similarly to front end web developers, meaning they make more than web designers on average.

Mobile developer salaries start a bit higher than web designers - around $64,000 annually - and continue to grow to $120,000+ annually with experience.

Users spend 88% more time on pages with videos.
- WebFX

Where to find web designer jobs

If you’re looking for your first (or next) role, check out these sources for job openings:

If you want to try freelancing, you can find freelance job openings on major platforms like:

How to make more as a web designer (6 tips to try)

While the average web designer does not make an incredibly high salary (by tech standards), there are many ways to earn more depending on your experience and desire. Here are six tips to try.

1. Go where you’re valued

Some companies don’t value design as much as others. Usually, this happens when a company’s brand identity is helped by design, but not defined by design. For example, consider a local services company that gets its business from word of mouth. Even if they are investing in generating digital leads, they may not need significant design resources beyond templates or platforms like Canva. On the flip side, a digital marketing agency - or a design agency that sells design services - is going to invest much more heavily into design.

If you’re passionate about website design and want to make the highest possible salary, look for companies where design is an integral part of their identity versus simply where design is a helpful nice-to-have.

2. Side hustle and freelance

The average web designer makes $49,000 - $90,000 per year, or about $23 - $43 per hour working full-time. By contrast, a freelancer can earn anywhere from $30 - $80 per hour.

So if you’re strapped for cash, try side-hustling on the evenings and weekends while continuing to work your full-time job. Or, if you really like freelancing, go full-time and open up your earning potential even more. One note: if you go the freelancing route, make sure you have adequate business banking and invoicing set up so you can easily charge clients and get paid.

Freelancing is also a great way to open a variety of career options, since it gives you more practice in your chosen craft and hones other skills like sales and client management.

3. Teach website design

Teaching web design could be a great source of income if you’ve built up years of experience or learned a niche skill. Depending on where you’re located and what you like to do, you could launch a variety of teaching products or courses including:

  • A premium course using Teachable or Udemy.
  • A free course monetized through ads and affiliates on YouTube.
  • A paid live-taught course through a local bootcamp or online with a platform like Thinkific.

The key to making money with teaching is to keep it practical. Unless you become a university professor, most people paying for additional courses are doing it for their job. If you gear your teaching to helping people change careers or make more money, you have a higher chance of success.

“If there’s one thing you learn by working on a lot of different Web sites, it’s that almost any design idea–no matter how appallingly bad–can be made usable in the right circumstances, with enough effort.”
- Steve Krug

4. Job hop

On average, job hoppers (people who stay in roles for 2-5 years then leave) saw a 5% salary bump, whereas job holders (who stay in roles >5 years) only saw a 4% bump when accounting for similar performance. While it may not seem significant, consider that 1% happening multiple times in your career - on an increasing salary base - can amount to tens of thousands in additional career earnings.

The key to successful job hopping is to treat every job like a learning opportunity. Focus on gaining new skills and demonstrating real value in each job. That way you can make the case for a higher salary at your next role. The other thing about job hopping is to avoid doing it too much. The sweet spot is usually to stay in a role for 2-5 years because you are there long enough to face new challenges, but not so long that you get stale or stagnant in your career.

5. Hone your skills and go for a promotion

Within web design there are more lucrative niches like UX design, product design, and UI design. If you focus your skills on these niches (including platforms like Figma, InVision, Sketch, InDesign, or Axure), you increase earning potential.

Further, you could also bridge the gap between web design and web development by learning some code. Whether you learn back end code such as SQL databases or front end code like HTML and CSS, adding these skills to your repertoire will give you more career opportunities and help you command higher pay rates at whatever job (or freelance client) you take. The reason for this is because many web design projects involve code. So if you’re able to manage the code instead of relying on a developer, you can take a larger amount in salary or freelance rates.

6. Look for equity or profit share employers

If you don’t want to take on more work or build products, look for employers that offer stock plans or profit sharing. A startup might give stock options that vest if it gets sold or goes public. A large public company might give stock shares to employees. And companies of all sizes do profit sharing.

Stock options or grants can translate into significant money over time, particularly if a company’s stock does really well or a startup is acquired or goes public. Even simple profit sharing can add up to thousands of extra dollars per year (and grow as you get promoted, since profit sharing percentages are often correlated to seniority).

Web design can be a thriving - and lucrative - career

Even though web designer salaries aren’t as high as other tech roles, there is still significant opportunity. The first step, if you haven’t already, is to learn the key programs and platforms involved in web design (either through a course or self-taught). Then it’s about finding the right opportunities for you. Finally, it’s about mapping out the career you want and identifying what’s necessary to get it. Of course, money comes into the equation - but now you have relevant salary data to make the decision that works for you.

Curious what it takes to become a web designer? Check out Wave’s guide to building a successful web design career.

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