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What to Budget for a UX Designer Salary

November 9, 2018

Zach Watson

written by

The prospect of hiring a UX designer can be exciting. But before you hire someone, there are a lot of factors to consider:

  • How many years of experience does the person need

  • What you need to budget to get the right person

  • How to tell accomplished designers from fake-it-till-you-make-it types

If you don’t know the answer to those questions, it’s alright. That’s what this post is for.

The job market right now

Over the last decade, the demand for user experience design has skyrocketed. The success of companies like Airbnb, Slack, and Lyft set new standards for digital UX design, and that has raised the expectations of consumers the world over.

Suffice it to say, hiring a UX designer will cost you. The job market is competitive, because the demand for UX designers is already high. And it’s only going to continue growing. CNN Money said being a UX designer was one of the best jobs in the U.S., and estimated the 10 year growth of this job market at 18%.

UX designer salaries by experience

Like any other job, experience plays a big part in the salary expectations of a UX designer. Someone who’s less experienced may be more affordable, but they won’t be as skilled in their work as another designer with more experience.

Salaries also fluctuate a great deal across geobelts. What a UX designer gets paid in San Francisco is not comparable to what a designer gets paid in Bozeman.

So if these numbers seems high for your budget, they actually might be. It all depends on how experienced of a designer you want to add to your team and what the local job market looks like.

The following data and visuals are used at the courtesy of Glassdoor.

Junior UX designer salary


I’ve defined junior designers as professionals with 1-3 years of experience.

For me, designers who have zero years of experience are basically interns. They may have gone through a well-connected boot camp or something, but they likely haven’t done the type of work that constitutes on the job experience.

Junior designers are still honing their craft, which means they’re usually ill-equipped to lead the entire strategy on a UX project. That said, these designers can still add tremendous value to your organization with their research and experience design work.

Their average salary in the US across all geobelts is $81,942.

Mid level UX designer salary


Mid level designers are practitioners with 4-6 years of experience. These designers will have worked on a range of projects and should be more than capable of planning and executing the UX strategy for your organization.

These designers should also have certain specialties with UX design, i.e., visual design, interaction design, or user research. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t perform more than one specialty, but it does mean they’ll be stronger in certain areas.

That can be a good thing if you know exactly what you need to hire for.  

An average salary for a mid level designer is precisely $94,606.

Senior UX designer salary


People with 7 or more years of experience in design can be considered senior designers. These are seasoned veterans who have designed more than their fair share of products and/or websites.

The main difference between these designers and their less experienced brethren is that senior practitioners are capable of leading an entire team — or building one. These are the people you want to hire if you’re thinking about building an entire in-house team.

The average salary for a senior UX designer in the US is $101,930.

Glassdoor has two additional tiers of experience for UX designers:

  • 10 - 14 years, which has an average salary of $106,581

  • 15+ years, which has an average salary of $110, 887

I haven’t separated these into their own tiers, because people with this amount of experience are still senior designers. Sometimes they have the title “principal designer” but the job functions are basically equivalent.

How to hire the right UX designer

Getting a budget together is only half the battle. Now you actually have to hire someone, which means you’ll need to decipher which applicants are for real and which are graphic designers masquerading as user experience experts.

Here are a couple of surefire ways to tell the difference:

#1 Look for a portfolio of UX work, with research

Anyone who has a bit of graphic design experience can go on the internet, read a few articles, and pretend to be a UX designer. What’s much harder to do is create a portfolio of real work, and then explain that work in an interview to a real person.

The first way to filter pretenders from practitioners is a viable portfolio of experience design projects. If your applicant has past work that looks good, then you can feel more comfortable about interviewing them.

In the interview, be sure to press them on the research behind their work. No two UX design projects are the same, because no two audiences are identical. That means a good designer will be able to articulate where research fits into their process and what techniques they’ve used in the past.

Here’s a good portfolio from Mark Phan.

As you’d expect, his portfolio starts out with examples of his best work.

Clicking on one of his projects takes to you a description of the client and most importantly, the research work Mark used to validate his decisions about the design of the UX. This is exactly what you should look for in every portfolio.


#2 Make sure they have a process

UX design is unique because it blends data and creativity. But blending the two means there’s a myriad of techniques and methods that can be applied to each project. Without a clear strategy to guide a project, everything can easily go off the rails.

In the interview process, be sure to ask specific questions about the designer’s process. They should be able to walk you through a flexible yet consistent series of steps that begins with strategy, moves to user research, and ends with experience design and testing.


How to keep your new designer happy

Alright, so you found the right person. Now what? Well, you need to make sure they have enough work to stay busy.

If you’re just working one big project, then you might be better off hiring a UX agency. However, if you can map out the experience design work you’re going to have for at least the next two years, then you should have plenty to keep your new designer entertained.

Another consideration is the type of work the designer will be doing. Keeping UX designers working on different types of projects — even if that work is simultaneous — can keep their creativity in high gear. Solving the same type of problem over and over again can be monotonous and adversely affect the standard of the designer’s work.

***

Even in a job market flooded with UX professionals, finding the right person can be difficult, and expensive. In many cases, it’s just easier to work with an agency and hire an entire UX team. The price is often less expensive in the long run, and the quality of work will be higher, because you have an entire team.

If that sounds interesting, click the nice image below and request a free quote.

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