“How much does a designer typically make?” The answer to this question varies widely, based on a number of factors:
- Current comp
- Comp history
- Competing offers
- How long has the company been looking
- How important is the role to fill
- How much do you want the person
- Quality of the candidate’s skills and experience
Websites that report salary data often don’t offer a complete picture, because they are not comparing apples to apples. For example:
- Not all designers are equal. The term “designer” is really broad. Someone who is mostly self-taught with very thin experience can call themselves a designer as much as someone who has 10+ experience working on deep, complex problems in an environment that is hostile to design.
- A great “Full stack designer” is a myth. A designer who “does it all” is usually pretty early in their career, so junior that they haven’t had a chance to develop deep skills in a particular area. You may think you are getting a unicorn but you may be actually getting someone who gets the job done but not necessarily really well.
- Agency salaries are typically lower. Agency salaries bring down the curve, but on the other hand, could be a good place to find designers to hire.
- Other forms of compensation are invisible in salary surveys. Equity is often not represented in these surveys, and even when equity is included, it is valued differently across companies. Signing bonuses and benefits are also sometimes not represented.
To the extent that you value talented designers as much as you value engineers and product managers, consider paying them the same; it sends a strong signal that you care about design as much as technology and business.
There is a lot of salary inflation that is commensurate with incredible market demand and little supply. Focus on getting people excited to join the company; start closing them before you make the offer. You want designers who want to join your company because they are interested in working on the problems you’re trying to solve, not because you are paying them a lot of money. Conversely, salary should never be the reason designers walk away from a great opportunity they prefer.
Some practical tips:
- Check out Wealthfront’s startup compensation tool for benchmarking and decide which percentile you want to put your candidate.
- Consider offering a matrix that shows a tradeoff between cash and equity and let the candidate decide how he/she wants to make the tradeoff.