How to negotiate salary: a hands-on guide for your design career

Learn the most important steps to nailing salary talks for design jobs, illustrated with a related scenario.

readymag blog Cover for guide on negotiating salary for designers

Negotiating salary for various types of design jobs is all about mastering three key stages: research, preparation and negotiation. In this guide, we'll walk you through these stages—do it right, and you’re on your way to that raise.

Stage 1: research your worth 

Before you step into the salary negotiation ring, it's super important to know your market value. 

Here's four steps to knocking out your research with ease.

1. Dig into industry standards 

Use sites like Glassdoor, PayScale, or to learn more about typical pay for creative positions. Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned pro, these sites can offer insights based on your experience level and location.

2. Get real with your expenses

Knowing your financial needs is key. While tools like Numbeo and the Cost Of Living Calculator by Forbes give you a general idea, it's the nitty-gritty of your monthly budget that really counts. Think about your rent, must-have subscriptions and personal essentials like therapy sessions or gym memberships.

3. Assess your skill set

It's all about what makes you, well, you. Is it your decade-long experience, wizardry in a particular design software or an eye-catching portfolio that drops jaws? These are your trump cards in the game of negotiation.

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4. Get mentored (optional)

If you're unsure or need advice on how to handle your salary negotiation, consult a mentor or a colleague in a similar position. Hit up networks or platforms like LinkedIn, Merit, Growth Mentor, ADPList, or check out local design meetups to connect with someone who's been in your shoes in the world of design jobs. A mentor can help you evaluate your skill set and give you the real scoop on how well you might fit with a certain position.

Here’s how Jordan prepared

Jordan, a Berlin-based web designer, crunches all the numbers he needs to navigate his salary negotiation.

  1. Industry standards: Jordan explores Glassdoor and discovers that web designers with his experience in his city typically earn around €50,000 annually. He’s currently earning €45,000, so he’s a bit below the market rate.
  2. Expenses: after counting his monthly expenses, Jordan finds out he spends about €30,000 annually. Adding taxes, he realizes he needs at least €60,000 per year to live comfortably. 
  3. Skill set: Jordan stands out as a web designer with exceptional skills in UX design and a technical proficiency in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. He's also a wizard with Photoshop and Illustrator, which allows him to create striking and responsive designs.
  4. Mentorship: through a mentor he met at a local design meetup, Jordan learns that with his skill set and proven impact, aiming for a salary between €55,000 to €60,000 is reasonable and aligns with industry standards.
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Stage 2: make your case for a raise

When you feel ready to ask for that well-deserved raise, make sure you're armed with all the right information to highlight just how amazing you are at your design job. 

Here we go:

  1. What's your superpower at work? What's so special about what you do? 
  2. Who else in the company is like you? Are you a lone star in your role or are there others? Are you doing something extra or different? 
  3. Can you level up in this company? What's your next big move? Think about your growth trajectory. Are you eyeing that team lead position? Show that you're not just thinking of today, but also where you can take the company tomorrow. Check out “Sharpen these soft skills to become a trusted design leader” for tips from top designers on building influence. 
  4. When's the last time you got a raise? If it's been a year or more since the last raise, it might be a strong part of your argument. 

What about Jordan? 

  1. Superpower: he identified that his knack for creating user-friendly interfaces increased website traffic by 40%. He's known for his ability to seamlessly blend aesthetics with functionality. 
  2. Unique role: he discovered he was one of the few who could handle both design and front-end development, a rare combo in his company.
  3. Growth potential: Jordan has been eyeing the Lead Designer role because he's already informally leading projects.
  4. Time since last raise: it's been over 14 months since Jordan's last raise, and in that time, his responsibilities have significantly increased.

Stage 3: strategize your negotiation approach

When we look at jobs for creatives, asking for a salary increase is a strategic conversation. It's about reminding your employer why they hired you and showing why you deserve a raise.

Here's what's important to keep in mind during the negotiation. 

1. Pick the right timing 

Ideally, aim for a moment when you've just nailed a big project or hit your quarterly goals early. It's like saying, “Hey, look at this awesome stuff I just did”.

2. Stick to the facts 

  • Highlight your contributions. In the meeting, be like, “In the past few months, I have…” and list out your killer achievements. For Jordan, it’s how his designs increased website traffic.
  • Market salary data. Have some solid numbers ready about what people in your role usually earn. Jordan has a neat graph showing the going rates for web designers with his skillset.
  • Propose new responsibilities. Drop in a few ideas about new projects or extra stuff you can handle. This shows your commitment to the company's growth and shows that you're not just asking for more money, but offering more value.

So, how does Jordan do it?

He schedules a meeting right after summing up quarterly results. Walking in armed with his recent wins and big contributions, a chart showing average salaries and an idea for a new design initiative he's ready to spearhead, Jordan's not just asking for more dough—he's showing his value. 

All his research and preparation for negotiation paid off, boosting his confidence and advancing his design career.