Why do we pay $5 for Starbucks when we could get a $2 coffee somewhere else? Why Apple over Acer? Same answer as to why every American can recognize a Coca-Cola bottle—even in the dark.
Every product is designed—cars, websites, coffee cup holders—to target an emotional as well as physical need. We want fun, not just functional. Cool, not just intuitive. We’ll cough up money for an experience that makes us feel and look good. That’s the power of product design that honors both aesthetics and user experience.
Hence businesses scramble to cultivate customer-savvy, design-focused strategies—and the businesses that succeed are heads and shoulders above the competition. As dmi demonstrated, companies that invested in innovative design (such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Nike, and Walt Disney) outperformed the S&P 500 by 228% from 2004 to 2014.
“Utilizing top design talent…helps companies grow faster through differentiation and better customer experiences,” according to dmi. “Margins can also be driven higher through generating an ‘I gotta have it’ (at any cost) mentality on the part of customers.”
No wonder designers of all stripes are in such high demand! According to Emsi data, the design universe—everything from fashion designers to industrial designers—holds 472,000 designer jobs (as of 2016) and has grown 15% since the recession, adding 62,000 jobs from 2010 to 2016.
Source: Emsi Analyst 2017.1 (Employees)
Let’s consider two compelling digital design occupations: UI designer (according to Emsi data, one of the top careers for 2017) and UX designer. Without getting sucked into the age-old debate over whether UI and UX are basically twins, I’ll simply treat them here as two distinct jobs joined at the hip to create a successful product.
UX (user experience) designers are in charge of understanding a product’s target audience, creating a vision that ensures users have an optimal experience, and keeping that vision front and center during the entire production process (which they oversee), while UI (user interface) designers bring visual and graphic expertise as they execute that vision. Different roles, both vital.
Note: “UI designers” includes the common job titles of both UI designers/developers as well as graphic designers, since many companies hire for graphic designers when they need to fill UI designer roles.
Job Postings: Who Needs UI and UX Designers?
Emsi’s job posting analytics indicate that companies are in equal need of both UI designers (including graphic designers per se) and UX designers. An average of 9,100 unique job postings for UI/UX designers per month in 2016 split almost clean down the middle: an average of 4,200 for UX and 4,900 for UI.
Companies publishing the most unique job postings for UI/UX designers per month in 2016 were wildly diverse: Oracle, Creative Circle, Amazon, and Pegasystems had the most job postings per month for UI/UX designers, proving that the nature of a company does not matter—the need for good designers is ubiquitous across all industries.
The top states for unique job postings were California, Texas, New York, Washington, and Georgia, with demand focusing in metros such as New York, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago.
Source: Emsi Job Posting Analytics
Where Do UX/UI Designers Actually Work?
UI/UX designers list a variety of businesses on their online professional profiles. According to Emsi’s new workforce data culled from over 65 million online profiles, 238,000 UI/UX designers name over 129,000 companies (see the map highlighting top cities below). Big names include Microsoft, Apple, International Business Machines Corporation, and Google, but interestingly, the most popular way to work as a UI/UX designer is through self-employment or freelancing. So, creative thinkers! If you like the idea of being your own boss and you’re visually wired with a penchant for understanding what customers want, you might consider setting up shop as a self-employed designer.
Source: Emsi Alumni Insight
Who Gets Hired?
Perfect blends of hard and soft skills: These are the folks that make the best UI/UX designers. Using Emsi’s job posting analytics, we see that employers seek soft skills (intuitive skills that cannot be so easily taught) such as analytical, communication, creative, leadership, learning, and people-reading strengths. Among the hard skills keenly sought after in job postings are CSS, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, photo editing, and web design.
Emsi’s new workforce data adds a cool angle: Designers in the field list similar skills in their online professional profiles, showing a close match between employer desire and abilities that designers bring to the table. The top skills listed in online profiles include web design, photography, and Adobe Creative Suite.
For wage calculations, I’ve used Emsi’s compensation data, which analyzes online profiles and anchors these observations to comprehensive administrative wage records from QEW and data from OES, the largest occupational survey in the US. Here are the estimated median salaries for common job titles held by UI/UX designers:
- Graphic designer: $50K
- UI designers: $114K
- UI developers: $104K
- UX designers: $114K
Source: Emsi Compensation Data
Popular programs for aspiring UI/UX designers include graphic design, digital communication, and web/multimedia management. In 2015, there were 43,000 completions for these and other design-related programs and certificates across the US. Colleges producing the most graduates include the following:
- Full Sail University – The Florida-based university offers both campus and online degree programs that are designed for the world of entertainment, media, arts, and technology. Number of completions in relevant design programs/certificates as of 2015: 1,083
- Savannah College of Art and Design – SCAD offers more degree programs and specializations than any other art and design university and is based in four locations (not counting its eLearning platform): Atlanta, Hong Kong, Lacoste, and Savannah. Number of completions in relevant design programs/certificates as of 2015: 608
- The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (Online Division) – The Online Division specializes in design disciplines and culinary arts. Number of completions in relevant design programs/certificates as of 2015: 543
- Wake Technical Community College – Based in Raleigh, the two-year school is the largest community college in North Carolina. Number of completions in relevant design programs/certificates as of 2015: 498
- The New School – The legendary progressive school in Lower Manhattan is organized into seven schools, including Parsons School of Design. Number of completions in relevant design programs/certificates as of 2015: 470
Americans are busier than ever. Attention spans, shorter. We have more methods for instantly comparing products that any other consumer demographic in history. With so much competition, businesses can’t afford not to pay attention to design.
Yes, the value of good design is difficult to quantify and define as a business strategy—a common reason why many companies still choose not to prioritize investing in design solutions—but the stats continue to roll in: $1 invested in UX yields up to $100, and businesses with a high degree of design intelligence have more productive employees.
So creative types need not despair over “all the good jobs” going to STEM. As design’s crucial role in business success becomes clearer, the demand for these all-important design wizards will only continue to roar.