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  • Writer's pictureAshley Gallant

Salary Snapshot - Design Leaders

Updated: Jan 29

Let’s talk money!

As a recruitment partner to North American tech companies, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of high-growth start-up and scale-up leaders about their experiences, aspirations, motivations, and of course…. their compensation strategies!

When establishing a target compensation range for a new search, clients always ask us “What are you seeing in the market right now for a role like this?”. Since we’re having these conversations on a regular basis, we thought we would pull back the curtains and share some insights to help you create a competitive compensation package. Alternatively, if you’re on the hunt for your next challenge, we hope you’ll find this data to be useful in the negotiation process.

Note: Be sure to subscribe to our Artemis Update and check out our archive of past issues for updates on big leadership moves and opportunities in tech!

Teaser: Here are some interesting statistics that you’ll learn more about in this snapshot:

  1. A ‘buyers market’ has led to more predictable wages for Product Designers.

  2. Wages for the best-in-class Product Design leaders are on par with those of Product Management leaders.

  3. The Product Design market is closer to achieving gender-based pay equity compared to other key functions.

  4. Findings suggest that while many product designers have previous experience in product management and engineering, contributing to career advancement, coding skills may not directly result in higher salaries.

In this edition, we're shedding light on the compensation landscape for Design Leaders at the Principal Designer and Head of Design Levels. Our journey through recent Product Design leadership searches has uncovered fascinating trends that we're excited to share.

What’s in a title?

Without blogsplaining™ too many unnecessary details for our already savvy readers, let's quickly outline the job titles encompassed in our analysis of the Product Design umbrella.

While many of our candidates carry broad titles such as Head of (Product) Design and Principal Designer, their diverse backgrounds unveil a variety of titles that specifically target different aspects of the product design spectrum. These can include:

  • Product Designer

  • UX Designer, UX / UI Designer

  • Interaction Designer

  • Industrial Designer

In our dataset, the roles and titles of Product Designer and UX Designer are the largest groups, with Product Design more common in leadership roles (ie. Head of Product Design, Principal Product Designer, etc.). Although compensation doesn't vary significantly between these roles, they differ in focus: Product Designers have a holistic, end-to-end approach, covering aesthetics and functionality, while UX Designers specialize in user-centric design, interaction, and usability testing. For the purpose of this snapshot, Head of Product Design and Principal Product Designer will capture data points from both title varieties.

Let’s dive into the numbers

Our analysis of compensation in tech start-ups and scale-ups focuses on the top 20-25% of product design leaders, offering insights into how they blend base and variable pay, with data mainly from those with proven success in product-oriented companies.

What are you looking at?

This data represents volunteered current compensation (CAD) aggregated at the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles.

Each individual was part of a SasS startup or scale-up based in Canada at the time they were in conversation with a member of the Artemis Canada team. Data points were collected between Jan 1, 2022 and present day, from Product Design searches completed by Artemis Canada. No data from secondary survey sources has been used in this analysis.

Deeper Insights

  1. Compensation for Product Designers at both the Principal level and the Head level hangs remarkably tightly around the mean. There is less extreme fluctuation from the average salary moreso than any of the other job functions we’ve analysed in our Salary Snapshot series.

  2. Amongst the entire dataset, our analysis revealed only two true outliers at the Principal level, and none at the Head level. The chart below shows how most of the data points are closely grouped together, without much variation.

  3. For those at the Principal level, most salaries are close to $160,000. Specifically, half of these salaries are between $150,000 and $174,000. For those in higher positions, like Head of Design, there's more variation in salaries: they range from $173,000 to $208,000 for half of these roles. We’ve found that generally, as you move up in leadership positions, salary ranges tend to vary more.

4. While wages are comparable to those of Product Managers at the same level, dataset suggests that market conditions skew in favour of the ‘buyer’ (companies) rather than the ‘seller’ (employees). In compensation market trends, a ‘buyers’ market does not mean wages are necessarily dropping or even flattening, but it does typically manifest in companies landing candidates at ‘market rates’.

  • In a market where employers have the upper hand, they may have more control over wage negotiations and hiring decisions. The data suggests that companies are maintaining a consistent approach to compensation, possibly preventing outliers or deviations from the average. This could be a sign that employers are setting new standard or market rates for the role and are less inclined to offer higher salaries beyond the established norms.

  • Why is this happening? The demand for Product Designers likely now lags the supply in the tech industry, which is not surprising given the level of competition in the tech labour market. Product Designers have not been on the untouchable list from the tech ‘rightsizing’ movement, and as a result we are seeing more power in the hands of employers as it relates to compensation. However, the fact that wages are on par with Product Management leaders (which is a notoriously well compensated field) suggests that demand for the best and brightest Product Design leaders still remains as strong as ever.

What about gender pay equity?

In our previous Salary Snapshots we’ve seen some disappointing trends in regard to pay equity between male and female candidates. Most notably, in our Marketing Leadership Salary Snapshot we observed a staggering wage gap of 26.5% at the VP level, a difference of 70K. We’ve got work to do here.

Our sample of Product Design leaders, however, provided us with a unique opportunity to do a fair comparison between male and female candidates; our recent search pipelines had a 1:1 male-to-female ratio from the screening stage through to placement.

In our data sample, we observed a salary difference of 3.2% in favour of men at the Principal level, yet a 2.6% difference in favour of women at the Head level. This is the lowest difference among all of our snapshots, and the first one that shows a reversal at different levels. The small difference in salaries between different groups suggests it's more about the number of people surveyed than a real trend. What's more important is that the salaries at both levels are very similar, showing that equal pay for men and women in design leadership roles might be happening faster than in other job areas.

Curious about how demand for diversity is shifting salaries in other roles? Check out our recent blog posts.

Skills and backgrounds that are influencing wages for Product Designers

Product Design Leaders navigate a dynamic landscape where design extends far beyond having a “good eye”. The industry's evolution, as captured by the InVision Hiring Survey, underscores the multidimensional skillset required for success. In addition to core competencies in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design, leaders are increasingly valued for their proficiency in non-design skills.

  1. Survey results reveal that 74% of product designers boast product management backgrounds, while 53% have engineering experience. This diversification is recognized as a potent indicator of future career growth and success. The symbiotic relationship between design and development has led to a heightened expectation for coding skills, though the survey highlights that coding experience, while attractive to hiring managers, doesn't necessarily translate to higher salaries.

  2. The evolving role of a Product Design Leader requires a blend of hard and soft skills, where collaboration stands out as a top priority. In fact, 98% of managers underscored the importance of collaboration, emphasizing its role in effective problem-solving and defining design-mature organizations.

What’s behind the data?

Our snapshots provide valuable and current insights, derived from a select sample of individuals with verified and noteworthy experience in successful Canadian companies. This data, gathered from our recent searches, offers a more focused and relevant perspective than standard salary surveys.

  • Each Salary Snapshot represents between 60 – 120 sources.

  • Each source is an individual who we deemed a promising candidate for a role within a high-growth tech company. Most are gainfully employed and many were recommended as exceptionally talented. As a result, our salary numbers might be skewed towards the top of the range.

  • We elected not to show compensation figures related to equity or options. Though this was a significant aspect of the comp package for many execs, it’s often tough to put an annual dollar value on equity.

  • For privacy reasons, we will not disclose any specific information that could reveal the identity of an individual or their employer.

Sharing is caring!

In the dynamic landscape of employment, salary data transparency acts as a transformative force benefiting both employers and job seekers alike. For employers, it provides a strategic advantage by aligning compensation packages with industry benchmarks, fostering equity, and enhancing recruitment appeal. Job seekers, armed with this knowledge, navigate their careers more strategically, negotiate effectively, and make informed decisions, contributing to a more open, fair, and empowered job market.

We believe that our Salary Snapshots are an effective delivery method for this data with our 4 T’s model:

Targeted: Specializing in the tech and innovation industry, our data reflects the compensation landscape of tech companies, making it directly relevant to your world.

Timely: Unlike traditional reports with multi-year lags, our 2023 salary data is up-to-date, providing you with the latest insights.

Trustworthy: Unlike free crowdsourced data, our information comes from one-on-one conversations with candidates actively involved in searches for our clients, ensuring reliability and accuracy.

Trim: We're agile and focused, offering a concise snapshot of current compensation trends, avoiding lengthy reports while retaining all the essential contextual information and analysis.

Please share this, or any of our other Salary Snapshots with your network!

Subscribe to our monthly Artemis Update to receive future Salary Snapshots directly to your inbox + more great content including our Industry Insights, Leaders on the Move, Humans of Tech, Dear Artemis and Tech Women on the Move series.

Created and published in December 2023


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