What 4,000+ Job Posts Say About the Design Industry
A collaboration between a data scientist and a design job seeker
TL;DR — The design job market is top-heavy
I worked with a data scientist to scrape five popular design job boards for the last four months with global coverage, including Dribbble and Behance. We then classified jobs by seniority and discipline. (See the methodology section for more details.)
Even at a basic first glance, the dataset shows that job posts are heavily skewed toward senior roles, leaving little room for entry-level opportunities.
The hottest disciplines associated with the tech sector are the toughest markets to get your first job:
- Product Design: For every 1 entry-level post there are 29 senior roles
- UI/UX Design: For every 1 entry-level post there are 19 senior roles
More traditional design disciplines have the most entry-level opportunities:
- Graphic Design: For every 1 entry-level post there are 1.3 senior roles
- Visual Design: For every 1 entry-level post there are 3 senior roles
The seniority skew
Why are design job posts dominated by senior roles? And why are product and UI/UX design so skewed toward seniority? Well, I theorize there are both supply and demand issues at work.
Leading-edge employers are less likely to have supportive hierarchies to nurture early-career talent. This is partly due to a positive shift toward flatter company structures, more autonomous product teams, and the rise of self-management. And the inverse trend is true where traditional companies and disciplines are less skewed to seniority in this data.
In my personal experience as a manager, tech companies want to hire self-sufficient designers who can be given an area of responsibility to own right away. I didn’t hire fresh designers at my last two jobs for this reason. As the head of design, I simply didn’t believe we had the time to coach. I thought I would be setting up newer designers to fail. And it would be a risk to the strategic credibility of the design team to have someone learning the ropes.
On the supply side, product design bootcamps are on the rise and new university-level design programs are introducing more entrants, making first jobs ridiculously competitive. This is a well-documented phenomenon in related disciplines like software engineering and data science.
Individual contributor or manager?
If you’re on the upper end of the experience spectrum, you can afford to be picky.
The market is evenly, slightly more tilted in your favor if you want to be an individual contributor rather than a manager. In the table, you can see there are 20% more individual contributor roles (“senior” and “principal” keywords) versus manager jobs (including “manager,” “lead/head,” “director,” or “VP” keywords.)
This dataset says you should feel comfortable holding out for an opportunity in a sector that really interests you. If you’re employed and unhappy, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump ship.
The ambiguous middle
Many times the seniority level isn’t explicitly advertised in job titles. We created the label “unclassified” or “not given” to describe generic titles without supporting keywords, for example “product designer.” As a whole, the dataset is fairly split between unclassified job titles and those where the seniority level is explicitly advertised.
There is a lot of ambiguity in generic job titles like “UX designer.” It can either be a highly strategic role or an excessively junior one, which reflects the reality inside companies themselves where the role of design in leadership is often uncertain. It’s hard to break into design, and then it gets even muddier what your roles and responsibilities are for many years.
Unfortunately, mid-career job changers will need to manually dig into job descriptions to assess the experience requirements. Tedious, I know!
I’ve hired and led design teams in North America and Europe. Describing talent as “mid-weight” is very unique to the U.K. and Irish markets, and even there it’s not universally applied. So designers across the spectrum will need to do a lot of reading unclassified jobs to see if they’re relevant to them. There are no helpful keywords to help sort mid-level opportunities.
The new entrant’s strategy
Much ink has been spilled about how hard it is to get into design. This dataset is a snapshot that provides further proof of this fact.
Let me say this unequivocally: It’s really, really, really hard to break into design. If you’re struggling to get your first design job, the industry is stacked against you.
The job titles with the highest proportion of entry-level jobs are more established disciplines like graphic and visual design. Or they’re found with more traditional companies that use generic job titles like “designer” or “digital designer.”
This provides a conundrum. Early-career designers are probably drawn to the field because of the lucrative and exciting disciplines like UI/UX, motion, interaction, and product. However, these fields offer some of the least amount of opportunity for new entrants.
The picture is pretty clear. For the first couple of roles, new designers shouldn’t hold out for cool job titles. Go wherever a portfolio can be built and plan to move into these disciplines as a secondary or lateral step.
If you’re struggling to get your first design job, the industry is stacked against you.
The remote reality check
Flexibility is like vacation: We can’t get enough of it. Remote jobs offer the most flexibility but represent a tiny sliver of the job market: 0.5% of job titles in this dataset are explicitly advertised as remote.
Remote design work is hard to come by relative to software engineering, marketing, or product management, according to AngelList, which claims to be the biggest marketplace for remote work. Even here, only 7.7% of all remote tech jobs are design-related (one of the smallest shares for any discipline).
The targeted strategy
Many years ago, I did a research project with IDEO about long-term unemployment for the Rockefeller Foundation. We discovered that there’s a two-sided problem with the post-internet job market.
Hiring managers are dealing with a huge scale of applicants and must turn to draconian and arbitrary filters to manage the influx. At the same time, applicants send a scattershot of low-quality applications thinking job searching is a numbers game that they can win if they just send out enough applications.
One solution for job seekers is to do a highly targeted job search resulting in applications tailored to the company. Candidates must go the extra distance to support their applications with outreach to current employees and even take on pro bono demo projects for the company to demonstrate their skills and dedication.
This really stuck with me. And when I came back on the job market, I tapped my data scientist partner, Dr. Gareth Walker, to do some exploratory analysis to come up with a strategy for where I should put energy. This article is a result of this analysis.
We used the Twitter API to scrape tweets from five popular job boards that re-posted their website listings in a repetitive format (thanks for the data formatting, job bots!):
- Dribbble Jobs
- Design Jobs Board
- Authentic Jobs
- Design Week
Using Twitter gave us access to historical data. Scraping the websites directly wouldn’t have provided past data as companies tend to remove posts once they’re filled. However, job boards don’t go back and delete past tweets. One downside to using Twitter is that the API limits you to 3,000 tweets per account, so we could only go back four months due to the activity of these prolific accounts. After we deduplicated the posts between job boards, we were left with a dataset of a little over 4,000 unique entries.
We then extracted job titles, sorted keywords by relevance, and classified jobs by design discipline and seniority level with some consolidation needed (see below).
Consolidated Design Disciplines
UI_UX = ['user experience','user researcher','experience','experiential','interaction',
'user interface','interactive','ux ui','ui ux','ux', 'ui', 'xd']
product = ['product design','product designer','product','mobile','web','wordpress','html']
visual = ['visual','illustrator','artist','art','photoshop','multimedia','layout','photo','picture','drawing']
marketing_content = ['email', 'e mail', 'marketing','communication','writer','social','content','instagram','comms','publications','campaign','creative','brand']
motion = ['motion','animat','video','moving image','3d']
front_end =['frontend', 'front end','software engineer','engineer','developer']
service_org = ['service design','organization design','organizational design','business design','service']
full_stack =['full stack']
graphic = ['packag','stationery','stationary','shirt','wayfinding','print','graphi','presentation']
account_based = ['account','project','programme']
industrial = ['industrial']
interior = ['interior','archit','kitchen','store','exhibition']
general_design = ['design','desin']
growth = ['growth']
digital = ['digital']
The goal of this dataset is to provide a snapshot of the job market from May–August 2019 and to come up with a job hunt strategy that’s aligned with your career stage.
It’s a senior designers’ job market. So don’t settle. If you’re money motivated, I’d say change jobs annually to get steady wage increases, which you won’t get staying in one place.
For mid-career designers, I’d recommend doing deep dives into job descriptions and companies. It’s much less clear-cut for you.
For early-career designers, don’t become attached to a specific job title or discipline. I’d lower my expectations about getting my first job in product, UI/UX, or motion design.
This research represents my philosophy as a data-driven designer at the intersection of product and growth. I hope to see you there.