Freelance vs Full-Time: Salary Comparison in Design Careers for 2024

Jai Sawle
Jai Sawle
January 1, 2024

Freelance vs Full-Time: Salary Comparison in Design Careers for 2024

As a seasoned UX enthusiast and product designer, I've navigated the ever-evolving landscape of design careers for over a decade. The question of whether to pursue freelance or full-time work is a perennial one, and as we step into 2024, it's more relevant than ever. In this blog, I'll delve into the salary dynamics of both paths, drawing from my experiences and industry insights.

The Freelance Surge

The freelance world has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, especially in the design domain. The allure of flexibility, autonomy, and the potential for a diverse portfolio has drawn many to this path. But what does this mean in terms of earnings?

Earning Potential

Freelancers typically charge by the project or hour. Rates can vary wildly based on experience, specialization, and location. A seasoned freelance UX designer might charge anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour. The catch? These earnings aren't consistent. You might have a month flush with projects and another that's worryingly dry.

Hidden Costs

Remember, freelancers handle their own taxes, insurance, and retirement plans. These overheads can eat into what seems like a lucrative hourly rate. Plus, there's the non-billable time spent on client acquisition and administrative tasks.

The Full-Time Framework

Full-time positions, traditionally the bedrock of career stability, offer a different kind of financial predictability.

Salary Structure

As a full-time designer, your salary is fixed. According to recent surveys, the average annual salary for a mid-level UX designer in the U.S. is around $85,000, with senior roles easily surpassing the $100,000 mark. These figures can be higher in tech hubs like San Francisco or New York.

Benefits and Perks

Beyond the base salary, full-time roles often come with benefits like health insurance, paid vacation, and retirement plans. These add significant value to your total compensation package.

Comparing Apples to Oranges?

Here's the tricky part: directly comparing freelance and full-time salaries is like comparing apples to oranges. As a freelancer, your high-earning months might outstrip a full-timer's salary, but there's less predictability. Full-timers trade some earning potential for stability and benefits.

The Hybrid Approach

Interestingly, a hybrid model is emerging. Some designers are choosing to work full-time while taking on freelance projects on the side. This approach offers the best of both worlds, albeit with a demanding schedule.

Personal Reflections

In my journey, I've experienced both worlds. Freelancing offered me incredible learning opportunities and the flexibility I craved in my early career. However, the allure of a stable income and benefits led me to a full-time position eventually.

Freelancing: A Creative and Financial Rollercoaster

Freelancing was a rollercoaster, both creatively and financially. The freedom to choose projects was exhilarating, but the irregular income was challenging. I had to become adept at managing finances and self-marketing.

Full-Time: Stability with Creative Constraints

Transitioning to full-time work brought financial stability and the chance to delve deep into long-term projects. However, I sometimes missed the diversity of freelance projects and the ability to set my own schedule.

The 2024 Outlook

As we look to 2024, the design industry continues to evolve. Remote work has blurred the lines between freelance and full-time, with more companies offering flexible arrangements.

For Aspiring Designers

If you're starting out, consider what matters most to you. Is it the variety and flexibility of freelancing, or the stability and benefits of full-time work? Perhaps try both, and see what suits your lifestyle and career goals.

For Seasoned Professionals

For those well into their design careers, it's about balancing financial goals with personal satisfaction. Whether it's climbing the corporate ladder or building a diverse freelance portfolio, align your choices with your long-term aspirations.

Final Thoughts

The decision between freelance and full-time work in design is deeply personal and depends on individual circumstances and career goals. As we navigate 2024, both paths offer unique opportunities and challenges. Whichever route you choose, embrace it with passion and a willingness to adapt. The world of design is dynamic, and so are the ways we can thrive within it.

Previous posts