My wife saw a statistic (and here's another) that graphic designers with a college education are one of the lowest paid college educated groups in the country. Yet, the value of design in the digital space is growing at a rapid clip. I think there are two important points to be gleaned from this. First, if you're a graphic designer and not working on websites or apps, you're getting left behind. Second, many designers are being swindled by medium-to-large agencies that mark up their designers' time by up to 750%.
I know salaries are a taboo topic, but that’s something bosses tell you to maintain leverage. Every time I see a talented and hard-working designer making less than 60k in an agency environment, I lobby them to make a change. Three years ago, I was told by a large agency in St. Louis that their Senior Art Directors didn't make "even close to 60k a year". This is an agency with some of the best known alcohol brands on retainer.
If you work for an agency with more than twenty employees, they’re probably making more than 150k on your expertise annually. They use that money to pay for bosses, administrators, parties, workspaces, and infrastructure. That's all well and good, but it's worth asking yourself if their contribution is worth the premium. In many instances, it isn't.
As a new designer, gaining client services experience is invaluable. I spent a few years getting better and being underpaid because it was a fair trade. But once you feel steady and established, you’re leaving fistfulls of money on the table for a workspace, consistency, and health insurance.
Being a successful agency designer requires persistence, communication, organization, creativity, and critical thinking. Those skills are all you need to make the salary you deserve.