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How Much Money Designers Make

Updated on December 17, 2016
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Luciano Bove is a car design manager working at Renault Design, born in Italy he studied at Art Center College of Design in California.


Dear friends,

how many times did we ask or have been asked :" much money do you make being a designer?" or "when I finish design school, will I get a well payed design job?"

When I graduated from Art Center College of Design I learned that studying in a very good school (and expensive) with profit and dedication would have been a real investment on my future job career. You know what? It was true for me and also for all my ex classmates, we are all working with satisfaction and passion...most of us are not rich, but we are doing well for us and our families.

However this photo was valid according to that economical period and also related to the amount of professional design schools on earth and design was 1989, the Euro was not yet at the banks, BRIC countries were not growing as fast as they do today, America was N°1 power, Europe was not yet integrated in the new Designers era and super organized design studios, Russia was dealing with the Perestroika and Japan was discovering how to produce the best car design quality.

It was a different world!

Generic designer salary chart 2008
Generic designer salary chart 2008 | Source

When I started to work as designer at Fiat Auto Spa in Turin Italy I was the first one to negociate my entry salary amount (even if for few extra hundreds thousands Lire per mounth..), I could because they hired me for my portfolio produced after 3 years in ACCD an expensive school, in Fiat at that time I was the first case of what happened several other times later on (I add "correctly" it is the market!).

From 1989 to 2000 were years of deep changes in Car design field in Europe, while Fiat, with Chris Bangle and Arch. Ermanno Cressoni, was organizing a real Design Center hiring only fresh young designers coming from professional Design schools around the world, in Germany VW was already doing it with better and bigger results, Renault in France was starting the great Design revolution in a car company with State participation. Patrick Le Quement became the man whom for 20 years made of Renault Design Studios one of the most dreamed environments by international students in design schools.

All those changes were not only concentrated on projects and concept cars production, the changes got to the higher organization the big bosses...slowly contracts started to include new requirements (special recognized design schools...Masters....English language and TOEIC Tests...). In some cases designers had 2 contracts combined together : metallurgy contract + creative contract... it was the start for European decent designers salaries.

I remember that when I was hired by Renault I had to pass the TOEIC English test certificate with a high score unless no hiring!

All those changes helped a lot several new design schools in Europe like IAAD and IED in Turin, UMEA university, Strate College in Paris. Schools became to understand that the competition in design education was very high and difficult and that american schools were far the best and the ones to beat.

When I was Chair in IAAD and later on in IED in Turin I was very concentrated on educational method and quality to produce, so big and hard entry selections before accepting future design students, max 22 students in the only class available to preserve and produce quality!

Average Car design salary in California
Average Car design salary in California | Source

The story I wrote is to make clear in your heads the cultural and economical period we were living as designers working all over the planet untill 2000.

At that period we knew that USA offered the best and highest salaries, Germany was not bad either, Italy was too low, Koreans were paying well because wanted to get there as fast as possible, Japanese also were following and opening in california design studios to learn faster implementing their excellent and precise mechanical culture, first Alias workstation appeared in Art Center and young students understood that it was the future in design conception.

And Today? What happened from 2000 to today's crisis?

Looking at the overall situation with attention to car Design world I have to say that the economic crisis affected designers and design institutions very badly! Realtionships changed strongly and today it is more convinient to work for Koreans or China than USA or Europe (with Germany exception).

BRIC countries are growing fast...maybe too fast and we find lots of new young designers coming from new design schools coming out as mushrooms. India, China, Brasil, Russia they all have their car design schools, the average cost in design education lowered a bit (good news) but we do have a sort of inflation of young designers that have hard time to get a job simply because the crisis forced companies to reduce employers (bad news).

So today we are living a chaotic period that is not yet calm down...the crisis will probably continue for 2 more years with a real positive re-start in 2015/2016, this period is not the best to make excellent is instead the period to preserve what you have because if you loose it you will probably remain without a job for a while!

So at the end I do not have the answer to the questions at the beginning of our story "how much money does a designer make?".

Today there is a new designer format produced by the long lasting crisis it is: the traveller. it is the young designer that goes to China to work sometime in difficult conditions but making really good money. However even chinese are changing their way to make contracts to foreign looks like the time to learn has come and now they make really attention to whom they hire and with what kind of contract (not super rich anymore..).

I hope you anjoyed my hub which is only written according to my perception and knowledge.

Luciano Bove

© 2013 Luciano Bove


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