March 1, 2023
Written By Liz Achanta

A tough topic for employees in all industries lately has been “am I getting paid what I deserve?” With inflation in the US having risen over 7% from 2020 to 2022, it’s a fair question for any employee to ask. Historically, however, this has been a question Graphic Designers have been asking for ages.

A recent ZipRecruiter job search for the title ‘Graphic Designer’ yielded over 33,000 open positions in the US – yet the average salary range ZipRecruiter reports is only $30-72K a year. Similarly, Indeed tells us the average salary for a Graphic Designer is $20.28/hr, which equates to $42,000/year. Not a lot of money – especially considering the median household income in the US in 2021 was $70,784, according to the US Census Bureau. So we have to ask: if the demand for graphic designers is so high, then why are we getting paid so little?

There can never be a one-size fits all answer to this question, although there’s plenty of theories as to why Graphic Design salaries are below-average. Check out our top three theories below:

  1. Easier Access to Free Graphic Design Tools

    Graphic Designers have a love/hate relationship with tools like Canva, which offer free services to individuals and businesses like logo creation and reel-making – a service that would normally have been hired out to a graphic designer. Similarly, individuals can learn basic graphic designing skills online – either via YouTube or through other eLearning websites. While this “I can do it myself for free” attitude from small business owners can certainly weed out the lower-quality jobs from your requisition pile, it also makes it more difficult to demand a fair wage for your expertise.

  2. The Competition is High

    Remember what we said about learning how to become a Graphic Designer online? The rise of free learning has also led to a rise in amateur designers; so while the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us there’s 204K Graphic Designers in the US, this number could actually be a lot higher. Additionally, in many career cases, having a University Degree isn’t required to create a branding package for a startup company, which can make landing that next great gig difficult. To combat this, make sure your work speaks for itself – and put together an awesome portfolio that shows how you stand out from the riffraff.

  3. Some Clients don’t take Graphic Designers Seriously

    Rather than being seen as a professional service that takes years to perfect – just like lawyers or dentists – many small businesses believe that either they can’t afford graphic design services, or that they aren’t worth the expenditure (which we know can negatively impact their brand in the long run).

What you can do to make sure you’re paid what you’re worth

    1. Build confidence in yourself and your work: remember, you’re a professional, and as the saying goes, “you don’t pay me for the 5 minutes I spent to do it, you pay me for the 10 years I spent learning how to do it in 5 minutes.”
    2. Make sure your client understands how they’re being billed, or what goes into calculating your costs. Regardless of whether you charge by the hour or by the project, showing your client price transparency can help them understand your value. Check out our blog post How Much Should You Charge for Your Design Services? for more info.
    3. Narrow your scope. Sure, pitching to only high-paying clients sounds like the sure-fire way of getting paid what you want, but it’s not entirely realistic (and you can bet your competition is doing the same thing). Instead, create a ‘buyer persona:’ a fictionalized client whose needs meet your design skills (and can afford what you’re charging). Then, focus your services and talent into finding those specific individuals.
    4. Create residual income. Residual income doesn’t have to be just for landlords or the already independently wealthy: creating and selling niche graphic design items like templates, online workshops, or fun printables is a great way to do the work once and reap the benefits for months to come. Having a set price for these products not only guarantees that you’re being paid for the work, but you can use this cash to pay for other needed items while you focus on nailing the bigger fish: like long-term contracts.