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There are many salary comparisons around which look at the differences between US and EU cities. As a data fan, I love browsing them. Since Hanno is 100% remote, I thought it would be very interesting to gather up some of this data and look at how UX designer salaries compare amongst some of the biggest tech hubs in the world.
Here’s a question: looking solely at salaries, which are the best cities for a UX designer be based in?
I’m focusing only on base employee salaries here. I’m not considering freelancing rates, nor bonuses or equity. I’m using several resources to estimate a roughly accurate salary for each location. The hypothetical UX designer archetype I’m using here has senior level job experience, and good skills. Although I’ve put a lot of effort into coming up with a figure which is as accurate as possible… this is still just guesswork, and these are only ballpark figures..
So how did I calculate the numbers? Let’s say it’s an educated guess.
- I analysed and averaged out all the different salary sources I could find, to give a number which I think is reasonably accurate.
- To equalize the changing exchange rate between the different currencies (e.g. USD has strengthened significantly in the last 6 months) I used an average exchange rate for the last few years.
- I’m also including the Consumer Price Index (CPI) + Rent Index from Numbeo, so you can get a better idea of whether the city is expensive or not, and how much of each salary is affected by living costs.
Ultimately what I am looking to find here is a relative number which will allow me to compare the valuation of a UX designer across different cities, and look how each salary works out in that city. Of course, salary is definitely not the only thing that matters when choosing a job. But the amount that a salaried designer can earn is useful data which can tell us more about the strength of the UX market in different cities and the value they each place on UX design.
Salary: 125,000 USD
Consumer Price Index (CPI) + Rent Index: 97
Comfortably the best salaries for talented UX designers come out of San Francisco and the Valley. The salaries, along with the apartment rental prices, have skyrocketed in the past few years. San Francisco and the Bay Area is probably the best place today for UX designers if you are looking for a interesting job offers and a great salary. I’ve even heard stories about UX designers who are earning more than the CEO of their company, which is pretty crazy.
Salary: 120,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 100
Unsurprisingly, the financial capital of the world also offers tremendous possibilities for UX designers. There are almost one thousand job listings related to UX design on some sites, which gives you an idea of the demand for UX talent. New York is a great alternative for UX practitioners looking to live outside of SF and the Bay Area..
Salary: 80,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 94
In London, you can probably find the highest density of UX designer jobs in Europe. That’s well deserved: London has become Europe’s startup capital in the past few years. The high density of designers and the events turns the city into a really great location for designers—and companies as well! But UX salaries appear low when compared to the cost of living, which is slightly lower than SF. That combination of salary and—especially the—bad weather makes it less appealing destination for me personally.
Salary: 65,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 52
The German capital is one of the growing tech hubs in Europe and it offers a lot of opportunities for UX designers. There are plenty of startups and medium-to-large companies looking to invest into design. Compared to London, the cost of living is significantly lower which will make Berlin a more attractive destination for many people.
Salary: 30,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 31
The tech scene in Budapest is growing smoothly. The headquarters of several successful startups are based here, and it’s also my home base. The city is surprisingly cheap when compared to anywhere else on this list, which explains the lower salaries and also turns the city into a great potential destination. Don’t forget to say hello when you’re here!
Salary: 80,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 84
Hong Kong’s tech scene is growing rapidly, but so far it is quite a way behind the big tech hubs (Bay Area, London, Berlin, etc). The salary is still quite good, however.
The cost of living can be quite high in HK, especially if you’re living on the island itself, but the friendly tax rate somewhat compensates for this.
Salary: 80,000 USD
CPI + Rent: 84
The Singaporean job market is very broad and there are several job adverts ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 USD. This makes it extremely hard to suggest a precise number. This was the only city I researched where I couldn’t find many articles and research on salaries. I’d speculate that this is probably because of the small number of UX design practitioners in Singapore. I ended up with the 80k figure after reviewing salary guides published by bigger HR agencies like Kelly or Robert Half.
As with Hong Kong, the Singaporean UX market is still growing. There are not hundreds of job listings but as more and more companies discover the value of great design, you can expect to see more job opportunities here in the future.
The cost of living and tax rate situation is also very similar to Hong Kong.
So, what conclusions can we draw?
How does all this look like when we chart it?
But wait, what about taxes?
That’s a very revealing question! Taxation makes a big difference to your take-home pay, and can vary hugely between countries. Let’s see how our chart looks when I add post-tax salaries into the mix.
Of course, we have to remember that European countries have medical coverage and insurance which is deducted from salary in the form of taxes.
Average CPI+Rent does not, of course, equate to the minimum amount you need in order to live in each of these cities. It’s just an indication of the comparative cost of living in each of them.
I wanted to find a way to visualize which city could be the “winner” if we looked solely at financial costs and compensation. Looking at this chart, Hong Kong is extremely appealing.
So let’s look at what other conclusions we can draw…
There is a huge gulf in salaries between San Francisco and New York, and the rest of the world
And considering the high tax-rates in EU countries, the difference is even more exaggerated. If you’re a UX designer in the US, these salaries alone shouldn’t tempt you to relocate.
I am not saying that the salaries in Europe are bad, actually they are still fair and many would consider them comfortable in order for you to make a decent living. It just makes me wonder why this difference is so huge. Are we seeing an overcompensated and unsustainable salary war happening in these locations, or is this the future for highly desirable digital professional careers of this sort?
This isn’t a shocking result, however; I am actually more interested in the difference between Western Europe and US, and what’s causing this…
In short, I have no idea what’s happening in London
When compared to the cost of living, UX designers seem to be much less generously compensated. What’s going on?
Eastern European salaries and cost of living are significantly lower
Another thing which is hard not to see is the gap between the Western European capitals (London, Berlin) and Eastern Europe (Budapest). I think that the huge difference in GDP between these locations offers an explanation for this.
Asia is growing
In general, the Hong Kong and Singapore startup culture seems to be a lagging behind a little. I got this same impression from my trips to these cities last year, and conversations I had with designers while I was there, Don’t get me wrong, it is growing nicely, but the tech scene is just not that well developed yet. I would predict that UX designer jobs and salaries will grow in the next few years, as the market matures.
So how do I feel about this? Well, that doesn’t really matter, the market and supply & demand will dictate the prices. What I find interesting, is to see how these salaries will look like compared to each other in—let’s say—5 years from now?
Do you have more accurate salary data in a certain city? Let me know so I can fix it!
Budapest photo by Dom Crossley https://www.flickr.com/photos/flashcurd/8330826380
Berlin photo by Phili https:[email protected]/10873521956
All other photos have been taken by the author of this blogpost.
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