You thought of becoming a web designer and the first thing that you think of is the web designer salary?

Let us start from the beginning.

Web design is an ever-growing industry, as the internet becomes an increasingly integral part of our lives.

People are using websites to shop for everything from electronics, books, and music to clothes and groceries.

They are accessing those sites through desktop computers and through all sorts of mobile platforms.

Any company that wants to make it big has its own, well-designed website. More and more people around the world are taking part in this internet revolution.

This means that web designers are increasingly in demand. A web designer needs to understand programming, coding, and the ins and outs of the net. They need to know how networks work and understand what the latest web design trends are.

Attention to detail is vital, and so are the abilities to meet deadlines and manage time. A web designer should have good customer relationship skills and be a good team member under pressure.

Most web designers have an associate’s degree or even a bachelor’s degree in computer programming or a related field.

A few even have relevant graduate degrees. Being a web designer is hard work, especially if you are trying to keep up to date on the latest and greatest. It’s a highly demanding job.

Why, then, does anyone put in all that effort into becoming a web designer? Well, how much do web designers make?

Average Web Designer Salary

The range of a web design salary is typically between $62,791 and $83,819 a year. The median website designer salary is $73,347 a year. Now, do you know why people invest so much time and energy becoming web designers and polishing their web design skills?

Experience levels do make a difference for web design salaries, of course, as does the region you work in. If you have trouble getting hired with a web design firm or as a company’s in-house web designer, or simply prefer being your own boss, you might end up working as a freelance web designer, which makes a difference in your web design salary, as well.

Experience Levels and Web Designer Salary

You’ll find that a junior web designer salary is noticeably less than that of a more experienced web designer. The entry-level web designer salary tends to be around $60,000 a year, though there are a lot of variations depending on the company you work for and where you live (we’ll discuss this in a moment).

It can be a lot of work just getting hired, and a lot more work moving up the chain. The hours can be brutal. Your work-life balance may be rough for a few years if you’re eyeing a serious promotion.

However, the reward is the senior web designer salary. This is often a six-figure job, netting you somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 a year. It is a lot of work to get to this point, and you can expect some pretty fierce competition since this field pays well and is steadily growing. You’ll need to keep your skills polished and sharp.

If you’re considering working as a web designer, know that working environments vary. While dreams of Google’s and Apple’s amazing work conditions may be a draw for you, the increase in web designers and their necessity means that you may find yourself in a cubicle farm the same as any other kind of programmer.

You can use these jobs as stepping stones to bigger brighter (and better paying) things, so don’t get discouraged if that’s all you can find.

Location and Web Designer Salary

Location is as vital to what you can expect not only for a web designer salary but also for the kind of living conditions you can afford on that web design salary.

Large cities attract more tech firms, especially in places like Silicon Valley and New York, meaning it will be easier to find a job. The jobs in these locations probably pay more than they do in less tech giant-friendly cities…however, this is partly because living conditions are much more expensive in these urban areas.

In California, for instance, a $100,000 per year job will get you a tiny apartment, a decent car with very good gas mileage, freedom to shop at decent grocery stores, and a chance to pay off any student loans. When it comes to loans, refinancing is a great way to pay back your debt. Getting approved for a student loan refinance — and getting the lowest rates — usually depends on credit history and income. If you don’t have a strong credit score or steady income, you can always choose to apply with a creditworthy cosigner to have higher odds of approval.

Rent is a huge consideration when figuring out where to work, and the rent in California, in particular, is very high. However, in different areas, even a smaller salary can get you pretty far. In the Midwest, $60,000 a year (substantially less than in California) can get you everything you can get in California…but with a nicer apartment and less need to find the best gas mileage possible.

That $100,000 a year web design salary is what a senior web designer can expect in California. The $60,000 a year web design salary is what a junior web designer can expect in the Midwest.

While that’s a good argument for staying away from California and other places with expensive living conditions, it’s worth noting that you may prefer the cultural and geographic traits of California over elsewhere (or you might prefer the cultural and geographic traits of elsewhere over California, whatever works for you).

It’s important to factor living expenses into your job plans, especially when considering web designer salary, but don’t let it be the only factor. Being miserable is miserable. If you have a dream and an ambition, be willing to make sacrifices for it.

Who knows, you may have a roommate, be driving a used smart car, and working ten hours a day for five years in Washington, and then you make a breakthrough and find your place at Google or one of the other tech giants.

Is Freelance Web Design the Way to Go?

If you’re just starting out in web design, you may find the best or even only route to go is as a freelance web designer. How much does a web designer make as a freelancer?

That is up to you in many respects, even more so than as a web designer working in a web design agency or as an in-house web designer for a company.  Many freelancers, whether they do web design or something else, are paid hourly. Others have a flat rate for certain kinds of work.

Many web designers find work through their personal websites, others through LinkedIn and other networking websites, and others work through services like Fiverr or Upwork. Some of that last category will take a portion of the money a freelance web designer makes for the use of their services, i.e. verifying payments, helping with client issues.

One major thing for anyone looking to go into freelance web design is that, as free as it seems compared to working for an agency or a company, as much as you are your own boss, your creative vision I still bound by the wants and needs of your clients.

You may want to pursue designing only one kind of app or one kind of website, but your clients may want a different kind.

This can be frustrating.

You should understand it’s likely to happen before you start freelancing and make your peace with it.

A freelance web designer will start out doing small gigs for small websites. You’ll probably start out living quite small and keeping a tight budget.

However, this small web design salary has its own benefits, and it can be a good stop-gap if you’re between jobs or working on furthering your education.

You should start doing freelance web design only if:

  • You can be patient. It will probably take you 2 to 3 months to get your first freelance web design gig. You will also need to be patient with your clients on a regular basis. They have a lot of irons in the fire as a general rule, especially if they’re building their own business.
  • You have decent (preferably good) communication skills. Communication is vital for a freelance web designer. You need to make it clear why your clients should hire you, why they should pay you what you’re asking, and what the best way to achieve their vision is. You will find you often know much more about web design than your clients, so you’ll find you may need to explain why certain designs work better than others or why some designs are more work and thus cost more or why certain things they want may not even be possible. Good communication will be key to your success as a freelancer.
  • You have a high skill level in the domain you will be working in. For instance, WordPress is used by a lot of people these days. If you can make nice custom themes for WordPress, you can find a lot of work. If you advertise yourself as someone who knows a lot about a particular aspect of web design, then you better be able to back it up. Having a specific and in-demand skill can get you pretty far as a freelancer.
  • You know a lot about graphics and layouts. You’ll find a lot of freelance clients are very focused on the visual aspect of web design, which makes sense since that’s what is going to accomplish a lot of their goals. Knowing how to write code well and quickly will not be enough for them. Your website design needs to look good, not boring or ugly. You can partner with a graphic designer if you have issues with this, but you will have to split the project fee if you do (yes, even for friends. You want to stay friends, right?)
  • You can be honest about your fees. Be genuine about your bids. You’ll probably get a lot of work offers from people in foreign countries, some of them developing foreign countries that are just entering the internet age. Don’t think that they are fools. If you want to work as a freelancer, you should be making sure your clients are getting their value for their money.

All that said, don’t become a freelancer if

You just hate your job

Everyone hates their job. Even freelancers sometimes hate their jobs, don’t like their clients, and would rather have a steady salary. Hating your job is not a good reason to quit and become a freelancer.

You are indecisive

As a freelancer, you have to make your own schedule and all final decisions up until the project is presented to the client.

You are also the one who usually reaches out to clients and you put yourself out there. Being too shy is going to end your freelancing career, and “let me think about it” when it comes to big decisions with a looming deadline is rarely a viable answer.

Hesitation will break your credibility with many clients who are relying on you to deliver. You’re going to have to be the one who decides where things go next when you come to crossroads on a project. There isn’t anyone else you’ll be relying on to make those calls.

You don’t already have a portfolio of at least five projects you can be proud of

If you want people to hire you, prove to them you have skills that are worth their money.

Many clients who use freelance web designers have small budgets and they need to know they’re getting their money’s worth. On top of this, there are a lot of freelance web designers out there.

You need to make sure you stand out from the crowd. Show people what you can do and why they should choose you over all the rest. Make it easy for them and build a great portfolio website right away (you should do this even if you aren’t considering freelancing!)

You have a lot of bills with little to no savings.

Freelancing is not the way to easy money. You should have a bit of money you can use as a cushion before you can get your freelancing work really rolling. It takes time to get gigs, and there may be times of the year where you can’t get anything, or clients go quiet for a little while.

Freelancing is a risky business, and a certain level of income is not assured, especially if you’re working on large projects that don’t involve repeat work. A financial cushion is a necessity for a freelancer.

You don’t like talking to people.

As a freelancer, you are your own sales department and your own customer service rep. You are going to schedule meetings with your clients and you’ll have to talk them, often extensively.

You’ll need to figure out how to communicate with others on a regular basis both clearly and professionally. If you’ve been hired to be a part of a team, this is just as important. It can be very hard, and if you don’t enjoy the frequent back and forth with clients or teammates, don’t freelance.

You don’t enjoy revising your web design work. Your client basically functions as your boss. It’s just that now there’s no middle man. You’ll have to revise your web designs for your clients until you get them right.

Expect to have to revise your web designs several times before the project is done. Know that clients love revisions. It gives them a sense of control in a domain hey often know very little about. You can talk to them about what you think if best, but know that he who holds the cash gets to make all the final decisions.

You don’t have a thorough grasp of real web design.

If you think web design means just using Photoshop, you really, really should not consider freelancing. That’s just kindergarten level graphic design (at a stretch).

What a freelancer should know is how to convert concepts to reality via Photoshop or other image editing applications.

You need to know how to convert image files to working CSS or HTML websites. A freelance web designer will need to be technically very skilled, and being skilled at higher levels of web design, even web development will mean you get paid better.

This means that it isn’t enough if you know how to center a table or other basic things like that. You need to know how to create interactive pages that look modern.

You can’t commit to excellence.

“That will do” is not good enough for a freelance web designer. You will need to strive to do your best for every job and meet every deadline.

One of the freeing things about freelancing is that your performance matters in very real ways and you’re not just another numbered hamster on a wheel, but that means you rely heavily on clients’ reviews and recommendations.

In many ways, every project you work on is a part of your portfolio. That means every project you work on needs to be the best it can be, otherwise, your freelancing career is doomed.

So, instead of spending time on time wasting websites, do something that improves your skills.

If you would like to dip your toes in the water and see if freelancing is for you, try out a few small gigs through services like Fiverr or through friends or small local organizations and see how it goes.

How to Increase Your Web Designer Salary

Whether you’re just considering a web design career, doing web design for a firm, or working as a freelance web designer, there are a lot of things you can do to boost your web design salary.

One of the big things you can do is earn formal certifications. The biggest of these, of course, is college degrees. You can go to a four-year university for your bachelor’s degree in a field relevant to web design, or you can pursue an associate’s degree.

If you’ve already got your bachelor’s, consider a master’s degree if you have the time and funds. There are also lots of other certifications you can earn for skills like programming languages, often at the end of a set of classes.

All these certifications and diplomas are a way of proving that a professional organization has verified you know a certain set of skills. They can be worth a lot to companies and clients a lot when they are considering hiring a web designer and know what they should pay for them.

Another thing you can help boost your web designer salary is knowing the latest trends and developments in web design.  Follow blogs that follow these web design trends. Pay attention to the statements and work from the most successful web designers whose work you admire.

When new technology comes out (or is rumored, for that matter), look into discussions about how it will change the field of web design. Staying on the cutting edge of these things will help you become a better web designer. If you swing it right, it could even win you a better job.

You should also work on your so-called soft skills. Work on your public speaking, so you can better present your ideas to groups of people. Learn how to communicate not just with other web designers, but with people who work in very different fields.

People who can communicate and work well with others are more likely to get hired than those who are unpleasant to work with, no matter how technically skilled they are.

Even if you have no desire to become a freelance web designer, learn how to talk to clients so that you can do it if you have to and can also help the sales reps on your team communicate ideas to your team’s clients.

Train yourself for this. Surely, you’ll mess up at first, but after a while, you’ll be great at it. Instead of emailing clients, set up meetings with them through an online booking system (so that you don’t waste time on phone calls), and either meet them in person or through a software like Skype, Zoom, or whatever is better for you.

Another way to do this is to look for coworking spaces in your city and just talk to other designers or people from various companies. With a bit of networking, you might actually get some nice collaborations.

Take a look at the requirements and culture of your dream job. Your current job may consume a lot of your time and energy, but you should be working for the position you want, not the one you have. Many companies hire for culture fit as well as skills. If there are certain habits that you need to work on to be a better fit for that dream job, take the time to gain or lose them.

Ending thoughts

A web designer’s salary is something worth pursuing if you have skills as a programmer and skills in graphic design.

It won’t be easy money no matter where you go or how you choose to pursue a web design career, but you’ll be a part of the thriving It industry with a lot of possibilities ahead of you.

About the Author

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Bogdan Sandu

Bogdan is a designer and editor at DesignYourWay. He's reading design books the same way a hamster eats carrots, and talks all the time about trends, best practices and design principles.