how_july_2014-cover[1]Text by Michelle Taute
Design by Sally Carmichael

We’re not exaggerating when we say the results of the latest HOW salary survey make us want to jump up and down. And maybe let out a few screams of joy. Then sneak out of work early for an impromptu happy hour with our favorite designers. After some economically rough years, the sun is finally shining again on designers: The national average salary for designers rose a full 8%—from $47,380 in 2012 to $51,206 in 2014.

Where did we get these amazing numbers? Every two years HOW polls designers around the country to find out how much they make, if they received raises or bonuses, and what kinds of benefits their employers offer. This year’s survey wrapped up in February and includes input from more than 700 designers. We’re especially excited about the rosy results because both our 2010 and 2012 surveys showed design salaries dropping slightly, and pointed to flat or downright sluggish hiring environments.

To round out the 2014 survey numbers, we talked with hiring managers and industry insiders around the country. Each one told us a similar story: Demand for talented designers is strong at both agencies and in-house departments. “Unemployment rates within the creative space are significantly lower than the national average,” says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. In fact, the staffing company conducted its own 2014 salary survey and found that starting salaries across all creative and marketing jobs rose 3.3% in the past year.


There’s also glowing news from both the agency and in-house sides of the business. “We’ve grown quite a bit in the last couple years, so we’ve seen demand go up,” says Tracy Richards, director of talent acquisition at VSA Partners. From 2007 to now, the firm grew an average of 18% per year. And in the span between 2012 and 2013, design hiring went up 40% as VSA built a consumer marketing division, increased its footprint in New York, and added strategy and analytics.

As for in-house teams, “I think demand has been increasing over the past several years,” says Robin Colangelo, vice president of InSource and global director of creative services for White & Case, a global law firm. She noted that the 2013 In-House Creative Services Industry Report, which InSource helped create, showed an increase in the overall number of in-house teams. And when it comes to salaries? She estimates that the average in-house design salary has risen somewhere between 2% and 5% in the past year or so.

All in all, it’s a pretty fantastic time to be a designer, and, hey, it might not be a bad time to ask for a raise or negotiate a better starting salary, either. Now, can we all schedule that celebratory happy hour?

For the complete salary survey—which is broken down in infographic form, and covers everything from gender gaps to salaries by title—check out a copy of HOW’s August issue, in print or on your favorite digital device. The issue also features a look inside some of the most creative offices in the country, six trendsetting firms coast to coast, project management tips for designers, and much more. To see everything in the issue, click here.