8 Reasons Graphic Designers Are Paid So Low Nowadays - mediacaterer

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If you are an aspiring designer full of passion looking to enter the graphic design field you may have to look into how financially stable this career path is.

It’s true that many people enter this field, or any creative field, due to the pleasure they get from designing. They have a true passion for design and do it for the enjoyment rather than for the money.

But as every other individual out there you have to make ends meet and to do that you should have a good idea of what to expect in the graphic design industry.

Why are Graphic designers paid so low?

an illustration of a cardboard begging to work for money


Unfortunately many designers who are full of excitement when entering this field are quickly faced with the bitter truth of the industry and how their designs are undervalued and take so much effort to create with very little payment.

Below are the following points I compiled which we will breakdown further on why graphic designers earn so little:

  • Supply and Demand
  • High Competition
  • Low Barriers to Entry
  • Lack of Business knowledge and skills 
  • Lack of Understanding
  • Compromising design
  • Lack of Patience
  • Easier Access to Free Tools and Resources

Supply & Demand

It is common knowledge that if supply of labor exceeds the demand there will be a shortage of jobs and surplus of people willing to work, this means unemployment will increase.

The number of graphic designers are increasing as nowadays any person with the latest design software and a good PC can call themselves a graphic designer even though the truth is far from it.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2019, there were around 281,500 job openings for Graphic designers. The problem with this is that there are more graphic designers than job opportunities which might explain why majority of graphic designers are self-employed.

Easier Access to Free Tools and Resources

The rapid growth of digital technology enabled many people to learn graphic designing through the internet. People who previously didn’t have access to good quality education can become self-taught graphic designers through online courses, YouTube videos and blogs (like this one.)

This isn’t by any means unfair to people who had to attend a university and get a degree to become a graphic designer, the only difference between self-taught designers and design students is the nature of their education.

E-learning is on the rise and more people are substituting traditional education with digital as it is more convenient and easily accessible all around the world. Here are just a few facts to consider:

  • The worldwide e-learning market is projected to be worth $325 Billion in 2025. (Source: Globe News Wire)
  • In 2017, approximately 77% of US corporations used online learning, but 98% planned to incorporate it in their program by 2020. (Source: eLearning Industry)
  • The US e-learning market is set to grow by $12.81 billion between 2020 and 2024. (Source: Market Research)

E-learning is here to stay which means if someone likes the idea of sitting on their desk all day designing cool looking logos and posters and make money  from it, they can start right now.

Apart from learning graphic designing many people also have access to loads of free graphic design tools which does most of the heavy-lifting for them.

This means there are some people out there who have no idea about the fundamentals of graphic design but are in charge of designing a whole brand! 

This is possible using drag-and-drop graphic design software which uses A.I. to detect the best places for design elements and have thousands of pre-made custom templates. The most popular of these is Canva which boasts a user-base of 30 million people.

More people will become skillful graphic designers which will give rise to the previous issue of high supply and low demand as more people are competing in the market.

Low Barriers to Entry

Low barriers to entry mean that it’s easier to enter the industry as a professional. The graphic design industry has extremely low barriers to entry in this day and age due to the relaxation in requirements of being a graphic designer and a lack of government regulations.

You don’t need a degree in design, you don’t need tons of experience, you don’t need to be a certain age and you don’t need any certification.

Even though the above can give you an advantage, the things that matter the most are:

  • A good portfolio
  • A capable design software
  • Basic knowledge of graphic design (typography, color, form etc.)

Many people with the above can easily go to an online marketplace such as Fiverr and Upwork and register themselves as a professional graphic designer. 

High Competition

All the points that we have discussed up to this point give rise to high competition. High competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it is due to the competitive nature of this industry that people are constantly innovating, developing and thriving as designers.

But too much competition is overwhelming as many graphic designers can offer the same type of work you do for a much less amount and businesses are always striving to get the maximum output for the least cost.

You might think “well, if they pay less they’ll get low-quality stuff, which means they will just waste money.” 

Well...

That’s not exactly wrong but at the end of the day, they’re the ones getting paid, not you.

To combat this, many graphic designers nowadays have to do an excellent job to make their portfolio stand out. Some resort to things like developing their personality and letting their charisma do the talking which separates them from the people constantly developing their portfolio in order to get noticed.

Chris Do, founder of The Futur, was asked on how to present yourself as a graphic designer when you don’t have industry experience. To this he replied, “You don’t sell your design, you sell your confidence."

The competition will keep on increasing in the future due to the popularity of this position and some people won’t be able to keep up causing them to lower their rates.

Lack of Understanding

It’s very common for businesses to not take graphic designers or graphic design seriously which all comes down to a lack of understanding from the client’s side.

Most clients think that graphic designing is an effortless task which doesn’t involve much thought and skill, you just make pretty images. Businesses tend to pay for value and if they undervalue your profession you can expect to be underpaid.

This isn’t mostly their fault as they don’t have the proper knowledge of what graphic designers actually do, this is why you’ll notice most designers calling themselves “problem solvers.” You have to educate the client in order to be valued.

If a business has a problem and you have a solution to their problem they’ll value you more. 

This can be nicely illustrated in a Steve Jobs interview from 1993 where he talked about his experience working with Paul Rand, and American Art-director and graphic designer, when creating the Apple logo:

“I asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution — if you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how, and you use it or not, that’s up to you — you’re the client — but you pay me.’ 

(...)

…He’s a very deep, thoughtful person who’s tried to express in every part of his life what his principles are. And you don’t meet so many people like that today.”

Budget Cuts

Many businesses, especially small businesses, have limited budgets and graphic design or marketing services are the first to go if the company needs to cut costs. 

This is mainly because companies give more importance to other departments such as sales and information technology and do not treat design as a necessity.

This leads to graphic designers working for less to fit into the budget of the client or not work at all. 

Of course as graphic designers, clients might assume our opinions on the necessity of design for a brand is biased but quality logo products have written a great article on why marketing costs shouldn’t be cut first to give a broader perspective on the issue.

Lack of Business Knowledge

We talked about clients not knowing what graphic designers do which causes poor communication between them but there are also instances where graphic designers lack proper business knowledge leading them to poorly communicate with clients.

Communication works both ways and is key in graphic designing because without it you won’t know what will help the client’s business and he wouldn’t know how to tell you.

Unfortunately, a major flaw of many design schools is that they don’t teach you how to do business. You should have confidence, good communication, a great sales pitch, and something to really sell your idea.

Something that makes the client not want but need to get a design done.

When graphic designers can’t communicate properly with their clients they go back and forth with them trying to figure out what they want and failing to deliver every time.

This leads to poor performance and really hinders your productivity and the less productive you are the less you get paid.

Lack of Patience

Finally, if a junior graphic designer with little to no experience is getting stressed out about getting paid less, it might mean they’re just not patient enough.

According to SimplyHireda junior graphic designer makes $35,449 per year however this amount jumps to $56,326 for senior graphic designers and $109,450 for senior visual designers.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) also reported that the average income of a graphic designer with 5 – 9 years of experience jumps to $90,205.

Many popular graphic designers on YouTube have shared their journey of becoming a graphic designer and most of them had very humble beginnings starting with cheap projects done for friends, family and small local businesses.

As graphic designers get more experienced and their portfolio gets diverse they can charge more for their work.

Conclusion

It is a generalization to say that Graphic designers make very little as there are many who make a decent living off of doing what they love. 

However, The graphic design industry is highly competitive and contested which causes many designers to offer their services for low pay. On top of this, many businesses don’t value graphic design or think it’s necessary for their brand, when something is undervalued you can expect to be underpaid.

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