Mobile App developerMavenPasadena, CA, US
IOS Native App DeveloperEvolutyz CorpMichigan, MI, US
Senior DesignerMerritt Technical AssociatesNew York, NY
Sr. Application Engineer IBM ODMPartner's Consulting, Inc.Philadelphia, PA
Application DesignerCorporate Systems AssociatesHartford, CT
Do you have an app idea that will put Instagram, Candy Crush, or WhatsApp to shame?
This article will teach you how to get into app design!
Read on to find out about the potential salary, education and certifications you might need, and the challenges you will face. Do you think you’re cut out to face them? We will help you by pointing to useful resources for upping your skills!
Whether you’re a recent college graduate, a high school junior, or a professional app designer, you need to know this info in 2020!
But there are tons of misconceptions about a job in app development.
Let’s clear them out first!
Ready to learn about getting into app design? Let’s start with a quick overview!
Your App Developer Career at a Glance
The average American app developer makes over $100k/year. They also enjoy generous health benefits, perks like beer and snacks in the office, and have very high job satisfaction. Monetary incentives aside, software development for mobile is a fulfilling job, where you’re constantly learning and making cool apps that make people’s lives better.
On the flip side, this is a highly competitive field and one where you’ll need much more than coding skills. A college degree is a must to get hired – top programs include computer science Harvey Mudd College, MIT, and the Stevens Institute of Technology.
The bare minimum of technical skills includes:
- Two programming languages – Objective-C, Swift, Java, XML, etc.
- App development platforms – XCode and Android studio are the most common ones
- Cybersecurity basics
- Software development methodology basics
On top of that, you also need great communication skills since mobile app design is a collaborative job. Working on multiple projects, you’d also need some ninja time management skills. Oh, and don’t forget to negotiate your salary, especially if you’re a woman in this male-dominated field.
Read to get down to the nitty-gritty? Let’s go:
App Design Jobs: For Beginners
Wondering how to become an app designer? Making the next great mobile app starts with the right preparation.
Even if you have the skills, every app designer needs university education these days. It’s a highly competitive field. Applicants without a degree are much less likely to be hired.
Start with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or a Related Field
Some other options include computer engineering, computer programming, software engineering, and mobile development. Most companies prefer college or university. Technical school is an option, but it’s usually the bare minimum.
Understand Development Methodology
The software development process, sometimes known as software development life cycle (SDLC), includes all the steps from app design inspiration to the final product. Development methodologies are different approaches to SDLC.
There are various models and you don’t have to be a pro at them. You do need some basic understanding and exposure, though.
Which one should you pick?
Nowadays, software development is usually agile. It’s based on iterative development (breaking down the steps) and focused on people and collaboration.
We will talk about Agile and other methodologies more in-depth in the next section.
Learn In-Demand Programming Languages
Master Your App Development Platform
Which one should you go for?
Depends. Do you want to program for iOS or Android? What about Windows Phone?
There are 32 different platforms leading the market right now. XCode was developed by Apple but App Code and Code Runner are two other options for iOS. For Android, Android Studio is the official environment, Xamarin has implementations, and Unreal Engine and Phone Gap are also solid options.
Get to our detailed description down below to make your choice.
Do the Work and Get the Experience
It’s the age-old vicious cycle:
- To get a job you need experience.
- To get experience, you need a job.
How do you come out of it?
These intensive learning courses are perfect for putting your skills into real-life practice. The best thing about a boot camp is you come out with both experience and a product for your portfolio. Speaking of which:
Prepare Your Portfolio
Potential employers would want to see your previous work. Make sure you have a couple of projects under your belt. Some applicants would even make a new project to fit the profile of a prospective company.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty!
Mobile App Designer Jobs: Your Comprehensive Description
This is a general job description for this position. Every employer will have different criteria for hiring.
App design is a type of software development. The job title can mean a bunch of things, including:
- App developers jobs
- iOS/Android developer (most professionals only focus on one)
- User Experience (UX) designer jobs
- User Interface (UI) designer jobs
- Graphic designer
In this guide, we are focusing on mobile app design, which essentially means building apps. Let’s use a factory analogy. The UX designer will research, test, and report on user experience to the business. The designer will help draft the product to provide an optimal experience.
The developers are the ones in the factory, actually producing the app.
Of course, this is an over-simplification. In reality, mobile developers collaborate with UX and UI to create great apps.
Let’s check out how potential employers will word that job description:
App Designer Job Descriptions
Here is a sample description that you might see on a mobile developer job posting:
The successful candidate will work closely with the cross-functional development teams, including User Experience and User Interface. You will work on developing and maintaining the next generation of mobile applications across platforms like iOS, Android, Windows, and mobile web.
We expect you to take ownership of development tasks, collaborate with internal personnel, and help us create the high-quality mobile experiences of tomorrow.
Most companies post something similar to the text above.
Do you notice anything standing out?
While you can code an app by yourself, this is not how companies do it. Design, UX, UI, and mobile development teams work together on projects. While you need a basic understanding of graphic design, for instance, you wouldn’t be asked to do it yourself.
But there is more:
Mobile developers often work directly with clients. App studios sell their software to businesses (and occasionally to individuals). You may have to communicate with key stakeholders and work on several projects at once.
Here are the in-depth areas of expertise you’ll need to have:
App Developer Responsibilities
As a designer, you will work under a senior developer/ team lead or under the creative director. Documenting and reporting your work is usually required.
Here is a breakdown of your responsibilities and day-to-day activities:
- Develop and deliver high-value, engaging, and user-friendly mobile applications
- Collaborate with stakeholders and cross-functional teams on the development process
- Break down and resolve design and functionality problems
- Stay in the loop with best practices, trends, and latest standards in app development.
- Ensure all apps meet the technical standards of the industry.
How can you become the ideal employee? Demonstrate technical skills, leadership, and creative thinking. These are the three key competencies you need for success!
And how about compensation?
Mobile application development is a growing field. As people rely on their smart devices more and more, new job openings will appear at an ever-accelerating pace. App designers understand how we interact with mobile devices and they help provide a smooth experience. There are plenty of jobs for them now and demand for new talent will only grow.
According to the BLS:
Employment for software developers will jump by 21% between 2018 and 2028.
This is significantly faster than other occupations. But it gets better:
21% is the general number for software developers. Application developer employment is projected to grow by a whopping 26% by 2028.
One more thing:
Concerns over internet and data safety are rising. This is why developers with expertise in these fields are about to become even more in-demand. Even now, the vast majority of job postings include it as a requirement (or an optional perk for your candidature).
Brush up on those skills to be even more competitive and get the top-paying jobs.
Freelance App Designer Options
Ah, the age-old question in tech professions:
Can’t I just do it from home?
Short answer: yes.
While remote work is an option, independent app developers face tough competition. Consider this:
The average mean wage for mobile application designers in the US is $108,080. An Indian developer’s average is $4,100/year!
Of course, you have to consider the price of living in the country. $4,100 is a great salary in India. You can even feed a family on that. Similarly, Indonesian app designers are happy to code for $10/hour because this is good money in their country.
To be competitive you have to do one of two things:
- Lower your prices to match the market.
- Upskill and gain experience to justify higher prices (and still get clients, in spite of them).
Even so, only top freelance app developers make a salary that is decent for living in the US… or comparable to the money and benefits of working a corporate job.
With the right experience and skills, there are plenty of options for app developers. You can take on a senior position as a team lead or manager, become a project coordinator, or even a creative director.
To climb the corporate ladder successfully:
- Always strive to learn more. Two programming languages are the bare minimum for a developer. You can keep learning new languages and platforms (as well as dealing with databases, safety, and software development methodologies) throughout your app developer career.
- Take on challenges. Don’t be afraid of complex projects, they are a way to gain experience and establish yourself as a developer.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. This isn’t just a tip for people who want to move up the hierarchy. Be a decent person to work with, and your colleagues will appreciate you. When the time comes, they will be happy to recommend you for a management position.
- Mention it at the interview. This is the easiest way to know – just ask at the interview. You don’t have to say ‘Can I become your boss one day?’. Suffice to ask about exposure to leadership or mentorship opportunities. They can both clue you in on upward mobility.
Mobile App Designer Salary Breakdown
Obvious disclaimer: these are averages. Your actual payment will depend on experience, skill, and negotiation abilities.
According to Codementor and the app designer salary per hour is $150/hour for American iOS developers. This contradicts the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which suggests an average of $51.96.
Which one is right?
BLS offers more general data. They include information about “general computer applications software or specialized utility programs” developers. This is more than just mobile apps – it also includes designers that make software for washing machines!
What About Android?
According to Ken Yarmosh, the founder and CEO of Savvy Apps, there is an “Android Tax” for Android apps. This software takes longer to make because Android devices take all shapes and forms.
When it comes to the app designer salary, though, Android and iOS are pretty much the same.
The highest reported salaries were at Amazon with $127,500/year and Yelp! with $118,097 for Android development.
Factors Affecting Your Salary
It pays to have advanced skills and experience. According to Payscale, Android app developers can increase their earnings:
- By 25% if they are C++ programmers.
- By 11% if they use Kotlin programming language
- By up to 37% if they have over four years of experience
Other useful salary-boosting skills include SQLite, Android Software Development Kit (SDK), and Java.
For iOS developers, they include Objective-C and the Swift programming language. Experienced app designers for Apple products can make up to 43% more than the average for the job!
Benefits & Job Satisfaction
Did you know that software development is the #1 U.S. News’ Best Technology Job of 2019? App design is one of the most exciting software development jobs because:
- It pays great and unemployment rates are very low.
- You make stuff and there is immense satisfaction that comes with that.
- There are always new things to learn and explore. You’ll never be bored in this ever-evolving field.
- Working at a tech company comes with many perks – from snacks in the break room to the Google Bus or the Dropbox ‘jam box’.
- The vast majority of developers get full health benefits and an extensive social package.
According to PayScale, application developers are ‘highly satisfied’ by their occupation. What are they unhappy about? The most common challenges include:
- Communication with vendors and colleagues
- Parity in pay
- Dealing with high-stress situations
Luckily, these things have a solution – excellent soft skills (these are the ones everybody skips over). In the next section, we will talk about the tech and non-tech competencies you need for success!
Education and Training
App design is a competitive field. You might have the skills without going to uni… but employers will still require a diploma!
To be hired in 2020, you need higher education. A bachelor’s degree is a minimum for top-paying employers! Gaining a master’s will give you a serious edge over other candidates.
But how do you choose your degree?
- Make it relevant to the job – computer science, software engineering, mobile development, etc.
- Think of the Return on Investment (ROI) – it’s not hard to pay off a degree that lands you high-paying app design jobs
- Consider how strong the program is – does the college attract candidates with strong analytical/math skills? Is the program in demand? What about the monetary investment in the program by the college?
When BestValueSchools ranked the top computer science programs by quality and ROI, these came on top:
- Harvey Mudd College’s broad and high-value program that teaches you the theoretical foundation, an analytical approach to problem-solving, and key skills like communication, ethics, and the societal impacts of your work.
- MIT, where a quarter of all B.S. are computer science majors and the program, is notoriously rigorous, faculty members are on top of their field, and student-centered research initiative is encouraged and celebrated.
- Stevens Institute of Technology, which stands out with its B.S. in Cybersecurity. A background in software security is very much in-demand right now and with rising concerns, the interest in app developers with a strong understanding of it will only grow.
Courses and Certifications
Online courses are a great way to dip your toes in the water. Unless you plan on working on your own project, though, consider getting certified to prove your skill.
Popular online courses to help you master app design software include:
- Udemy where prices range between $20 and $100 and most classes are completely beginner-friendly (meaning no coding experience required). You can even learn how to create an app from scratch.
- Treehouse is an online tech-specialized learning platform. Their iOS course comes with a 7-day free trial and costs $25 after. The hands-on approach and expert teachers attract many beginners. Treehouse is an excellent launching ground for your future career.
- edX is a non-profit organization that provides free courses. Their beginner Android course takes you from complete newbie to the proud creator of two simple applications. You can add a verified badge for $99.
- Appcoda is a startup specializing in iOS and Swift programming. Their tutorials are free and you can follow along to create your own projects.
- Google developers training is free and incredibly useful for beginners and seasoned coders alike. Best of all? It’s completely free AND it trains you to become an Associate Android Developer (AAD, which is the most popular certification that employers require).
- Udacity offers for-pay courses for experienced developers. They are the next step after a free Goggle developer training to help you get the AAD certificate.
Here are the developer certifications that are most common among the mobile app designer requirements of leading companies:
- Associate Android Developer (Google) – no prerequisites; one coding project plus an exit interview; $149 per exam.
- GIAC Mobile Device Security Analyst (GIAC) – no prerequisites; 75 questions with a passing grade of 71%; $1,899 without training (two practice exams included), $769 as part of a training course, $769 retake fee
- MCSD: App Builder (Microsoft) – MCSA: Web Applications or MCSA: Universal Windows Platform are prerequisites; one exam (a choice of six options); $165 to attempt it.
- MTA Developer (Microsoft) – no prerequisites; one exam per track; $127 per exam.
The MTA certificate is aimed at high school and college students, to help you get your foot through the door. It’s a very basic certificate and not a prerequisite for the MCSA: App Builder. While it’s a great starting point, consider getting further training and certifications to be truly competitive as an app developer.
Now, let’s consider the skills you need to be successful:
Mobile App Designer: Technical Skills
Mobile development is about UI and UX above all. It makes those aspects work as smooth and efficiently as possible. Knowing your platform is the most important and core technical skill of a successful developer.
For iOS Developers
You need the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit), combined with XCode (an integrated development environment) to develop iOS apps in programming languages like:
Learning Swift and Objective-C and practicing through the free download SDK (free for Mac, it’s not available for Windows computers) is the best way to get started as an iOS developer. XCode proficiency or mastering another IDE is also a must.
For Android Developers
The preferred languages for creating Android apps are Java and Kotlin. UI design happens through XML, meaning you need to be familiar with that, too.
Android Studio is the integrated environment that most developers use to write business logic and XML. You also need to be familiar with Gradle, the automation toolkit that Android Studio uses, and the Android plugin used to integrate Gradle.
Testing is a major aspect of creating smooth-running apps. The most common testing libraries for Android include Expresso, Junit, Mockito, Robolectric, and UI Automator. Learn at least one of them (but ideally, get a basic understanding of multiple).
Soft Skills Matter Too
They might not be as sexy and exciting as a new programming language, but soft skills are crucial for your app developer career. Here are the basic things you need to master:
- Communication and collaboration – app designers work in teams. You will need to interact with other developers, UI/UX specialists, and even clients on a daily basis. Prepare to compromise and keep your mind open to other’s ideas and ways of doing their job.
- Salary negotiation – pay disparity is a major con that most app developers cite. This is a male-dominated profession (for instance, just 12.2% of Android devs are women) and there is a gender pay gap. The disparity also exists between other groups of employees. Negotiating your wage is a must if you don’t want to get the short end of the stick.
- Time management – you would likely be working on multiple projects at once. Manage your tasks efficiently or burn out in the second week…
- Working under pressure – while tech companies do a lot to help their employees feel at ease, there are some stressful situations involved. This was another con cited by many current developers. If you perform well under pressure, you’re definitely at an advantage.
Ultimately, success in app development is about:
- Strong core skills in computer science
- Knowing your platform and the nitty-gritty behind great UI/UX
- Key soft skills like communication (because you’ll be working with other people… a lot)
Already psyched to become an app designer? Let’s finish this up by answering some common questions people have:
What Does an App Designer Do?
This is a software developer that makes applications for mobile devices. Most app designers work closely with UI and UX specialists to create high-value apps for their clients.
How Do You Become an App Designer?
Start with a college degree in computer science or a related field.
Learn at least two programming languages relevant to the platform you plan on building for. For iOS, these are Swift and Objective-C. For Android, Java/Kotlin and XML.
Become a pro at using an integrated environment (such as XCode for iOS).
Create a few apps and include them in your portfolio. Showing your work to potential employers, you prove your skills and help them figure out if you’re the right fit for their projects.
Brush up on soft skills like communication, salary negotiation, and working under pressure.
What Degree Do You Need to Be an App Developer?
A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Master’s and above will give you an edge. Also, consider certifications like Associate Android Developer (by Google).
What Skills Do You Need to Be an App Developer?
Start with an understanding of development methodology (like Agile) and a solid computer science foundation.
You also need coding skills and experience in popular programming languages – Objective-C, Swift, Java, Kotlin, XML.
Proficiency in your app development platform is also a must.
Finally, understanding cybersecurity principles is a key skill and anyone with further software security skills is at a major advantage.
How Much Does It Cost to Build an App?
Your app designer team can charge a wildly different fee, depending on the functionality you need, whether you’ll be dealing with sensitive data, and whether it’s an iOS or Android app.
Cleveroad recently did an article breaking down the cost of building Instagram. It came to a range of $177,000-236,000+, design services and admin panel development not included.
Simple apps that don’t need their own database, don’t require a login and are not linked to a social network go for much cheaper.