User experience (UX) is a term that has been around since the early 1990s, but wasn’t widely recognized until relatively recently. It was first coined by Donald Norman, a cognitive scientist for Apple who came up with “user experience design” as a way of encompassing everything UX represents. He explained, “I invented the term because I thought human interface and usability were too narrow: I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with a system, including industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction, and the manual.”

Simply put, UX makes websites, apps, and other pieces of technology easy to use thanks to consumer-friendly designs. Iconfinder CEO Martin LeBlanc says user interfaces should be as simple to use as possible:

"A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good." — Martin LeBlanc

(Source: Springboard | 77 Shareable Design Quotes)

According to a study by Forrester, companies that allocate resources to UX teams have lower costs of customer acquisition, lower customer support costs, and higher rates of customer retention. Which makes sense! Not everyone is tech savvy, so if your website is cumbersome, customers will likely drift to a competitor whose site is easier to use.

Forrester’s Customer Experience Index is an annual benchmark for customer experience quality across large global brands. Criteria include “how effectively respondents felt their needs were met and how they assessed the ease and enjoyability of their experiences.” Forrester’s research demonstrates that the top 10 companies leading in customer experience outperformed their peers on the S&P 500 Index by nearly triple. And on average, every dollar invested in UX results in $100 in return—an ROI of 9,900 percent! As such, it should come as no surprise that companies are investing more and more in the development of UX teams.

UX Design: Proven Results

When Amazon first launched, CEO Jeff Bezos recognized the importance of having an easy-to-use interface. He allocated 100 times more budget for customer experience efforts than advertising, which helped the company grow to where it is today.

Airbnb is another example of a company that owes its success to investments in UX. Co-founder Mike Gebbia credits a change in the user interface with saving the business and allowing it to become a $10 billion company. Airbnb was close to shuttering in 2009, when Gebbia stumbled upon a realization. “The photos sucked,” he said. “People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn’t a surprise that people weren’t booking rooms because you couldn’t even really see what it is that you were paying for.”

Gebbia didn’t have any data to back his theory, but wanted to test it out. He and his team got a professional camera, flew to New York, reshot the images, and posted them. Immediately, they doubled their average weekly revenue, resulting in the first financial improvement Airbnb had seen in almost a year.

UX Designer Market Demand

While the job market for UX designers was relatively weak during Donald Norman’s time at Apple, it has skyrocketed in the last decade and, as you can see in the Airbnb example, it can be credited with saving many a failing startup.

Emsi Analyst 2017 | UX Designer Job Growth Over Time

(Source: Emsi Analyst 2017 | UX Designer Job Growth Over Time)

With the growth of smartphones, apps, wearables, virtual reality, voice technology, and more, the demand for UX designers is at an all-time high and is predicted to continue its upward trend. In the next five years, the design industry as a whole is expected to grow by 10 percent or more. Today, there are over 238,000 UX designers across 129,000 companies in the U.S., and Glassdoor rates UX managers in 19th place on the list of the top 25 highest paying jobs in America.

Where Is the Highest Demand for UX Designers?

It should come as no surprise that America’s tech capitals–California and New York–lead the charge for UX designers. Other areas with active job markets include Texas, Washington, Georgia, and Illinois, with the metro areas of New York City, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago having the highest demand. While these cities represent the companies with the most opportunities for UX designers, it should be noted that many UX designers are freelancers, some of whom work remotely. Thus, if you’re looking to break into the UX design world, you should set your search in these states and cities, but doing so doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have to move there.

Emsi Job Postings Regional Breakdown

(Source: Emsi Job Posting Analytics)

Where Will You Make the Most as a UX Designer?

Like any industry, UX design salaries vary wildly based on experience and location, but as you can see in the below snapshot of creative and marketing salaries across the U.S., New York City and Silicon Valley are the highest-paying markets for UX designers. So, they not only have the highest demand, but they pay the most as well.

The Creative Group — Robert Half 2018 Forecast Salary Midpoints

(Source: The Creative Group — Robert Half 2018 Forecast Salary Midpoints)

The above represents the 50th percentile of salaries. As of August 2018, Glassdoor reports that the average UX designer salary is $97,460. While that number factors in all design levels, even an entry-level UX designer salary is nothing to sneeze at.

According to 2018 data from Glassdoor, and an aggregation of data from Glassdoor and Robert Half compiled by Justin Baker for 2017 salaries, UX designers on average can expect the following salary ranges:

Junior Designer:

A junior UX designer typically has 0-2 years of experience. This can be someone just out of school or someone who has switched careers but is in their first UX design job.

Junior UX designer salaries

(Source: Glassdoor)

A junior UX designer salary ranges broadly, but the average for 2018 is $81,000.  

    • $56,000 — $100,000 starting salary for 2018
    • $77,000 median salary for 2017
    • $81,000 median salary for 2018

The majority of junior-level designer positions require internships and/or a portfolio. Having internship experience can help you get to the higher end of the salary range.  

Mid-Level Designer:

Mid-level designers typically have 2-6 years of professional design experience and their starting salaries range by approximately $50,000. On average, a mid-level UX designer can expect to start at around $100,000.

Mid-level designer salaries

(Source: Glassdoor | 4-6 years of experience)

Mid-level designers are the most sought-after UX professionals, which may help explain the broad range in starting salaries.

  • $69,000 — $121,000 starting salary in 2018
  • $86,000 median salary for 2017
  • $99,000 median salary for 2018

Both tech and non-tech companies are currently recruiting heavily for mid-level UX designers, so if you’re a UX designer with a few years of experience, you’re in a great spot.

Senior Designer:

Senior UX designers have 6-10 years of experience and typically have a defined UX specialty—mobile, web, or IoT, among others. Senior UX designers are often brought in when companies are looking to rebrand their site or launch a new platform. They are expected to require little to no training and thus hit the ground running. The average senior UX designer salary is $104,580.

  • $74,000 — $128,000 starting salary in 2018
  • $103,000 median salary for 2017
  • $105,000 median salary for 2018

In 2018, there has been an increase in demand for senior designers and this trend is expected to continue.

Principal UX Designer:

The best way to think of a principal UX designer is as the CEO of the design team: it’s the highest level that an individual designer can obtain and requires extensive proven experience.

A principal UX designer is someone with 10 or more years of experience. Typically (though not always), he or she is an expert in one field of UX. Principal UX designer is a relatively new title, and thus research on salaries varies greatly. According to Glassdoor, the average starting salary for a principal designer is $110,000, but according to Payscale the average is closer to $140,000 and varies as follows:

  • $110,000 — $180,000 starting salary in 2018
  • $110,000 median salary for 2017
  • $137,000 median salary for 2018

While small and mid-sized companies typically have one principal UX designer, large tech companies have multiple, with each principal focused on a different channel.

How to Make Sure You’re at the Top End of the Salary Range

As you can see, starting salaries for UX designers vary greatly, no matter the title. If you want to make sure you’re at the high end of the salary spectrum, the first step is having a handle on the UX design process, but there are a few additional things you can do:

  • Intern: If you’re just starting out in UX, make sure you have internship experience. This will not only make you more attractive to potential employers, but it will boost your portfolio with real-life experience.
  • Sharpen Your Skills: While it’s helpful for more senior UX designers to be specialized in one channel or skill set, junior and mid-level designers should get as much experience as possible. John Dennehy, founder and executive chairman of Zartis, an IT recruitment company, recommends getting experience in mobile and SaasDara Boland, principal consultant in UX at Morgan McKinley, agrees that it’s imperative for UX designers to have broad skill sets. He says that visual design is the most sought-after skill, as well as interaction design and usability skills.
  • Stay Up to Date With Trends: As the design world is ever-changing to keep up with evolution in technology, it’s imperative for UX designers to stay abreast of trends. Otherwise, people won’t want to use their products. A few popular sites for UX designers include Smashing Magazine, UX Collective, and UX Planet.

Final Thoughts

UX design is one of the most in-demand jobs in the U.S. right now and salaries reflect that. Markets with the most job opportunities include Silicon Valley, New York, and Texas, but many UX designers are freelance, so the opportunity to work remotely or jump from one city to another exists. Young designers are encouraged to get as much experience as possible across a wide variety of channels and programs. Senior designers, however, should focus on one specialty (but still have experience in others).

Many UX designers are actually self-taught. If you’re considering a career change, take a look at Springboard’s Guide to UX Design Jobs and learn more about the day-to-day life of a UX designer. If it’s something you want to pursue, consider Springboard’s UX Bootcamp Career Track, a mentor-guided bootcamp with a job guarantee.