Design Week Poll: 71% of design businesses worried about surviving into 2021

Three months on from our first business impact survey, we once again asked readers how they were weathering the pandemic.

A Design Week poll of readers has revealed that almost three quarters (71%) are concerned about how the rest of the year will play out, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Launched last week, the survey attracted engagement from more than 380 readers. The results provide an insight into an industry that, like so many others, has been acutely affected by the crisis and its consequences, such as lockdown, cancelled contracts, supply chain issues and childcare considerations.

16% have lost all business

The results come three months after Design Week’s initial coronavirus business impact survey, which revealed that even just weeks into the start of the lockdown, more than half (54%) of studios had already lost more than 75% of business.

This time around, we asked readers the same question. Perhaps because both businesses and clients are more adjusted to life amid a pandemic than back in April, the results were more spread out.

One in three respondents still report a 75% loss of business since our previous survey, but the poll also revealed one in ten had experienced no loss of work at all. Unfortunately, this is dwarfed somewhat by the 16% of respondents who said they had had a complete loss of all business because of the pandemic.

A third of businesses have avoided government help

Beyond looking at how business had directly been affected, the poll also sought to find out more about how designers were interacting with the government’s coronavirus financial support offerings, if at all.

In his inaugural Budget statement on 11 March, and in several addresses since, chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a number of state initiatives which aim to mitigate the effects of the global pandemic on British business. These include the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The CRJS, otherwise referred to as the furlough scheme, was the initiative that designers and design businesses had interacted with the most, according to the survey – almost half (49%) of respondents reported they or their employer had used the scheme.

Beyond furlough however, it seems designers haven’t been too interested in the other support on offer from the government: just 12% reported having accessed the SEISS (perhaps because, as Design Week has reported on throughout the pandemic, there appear to be significant holes in the scheme), and more than a third (35%) had accessed no support at all.

Of those who did access support, the overwhelming consensus was that it was easy to access.

40% of furloughed designers unsure when they’re coming back

With 49% of design businesses accessing the furlough scheme, significant numbers of designers have of course been put on furlough. Design Week therefore also asked how long furloughed respondents had been out of work for.

It was a varied response, indicating that the pandemic experience of some studios has been markedly different from others. Some 20% of furloughed designers said their time out of work had lasted less than a month, but 30% reported having been out for three months, the majority of the UK’s lockdown period.

Additionally, a further 40% of respondents said they were still on furlough with no idea when they will be brought back into the studio.

More than half will encourage home working in the future

The final area explored by the poll was how the pandemic was influencing projects and working life. As stated already, some 71% of readers are worried about how the rest of the year will pan out amid the crisis, but 29% reported feeling optimistic.

Like so many other industries, many designers have had to contend with working from home during lockdown, and this is a practice that appears to be here to stay.

More than half (52%) of respondents said home working would be encouraged moving forward, and a surprising 30% said that operations at their design business would be shifting to an exclusively home working format. Only 18% of readers said the pandemic had had no impact on where staff will work.

As for how the pandemic has influenced client work, it seems experiences are split. While client needs have shifted during the pandemic, with alternative communications and products, for example, 52% of designers report work for their specific clients had not changed in the last four months.

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  • Neil Littman July 20, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    I think it would be helpful to know which types of business areas agencies have lost. Think event management such as exhibition design would be one example. I work in employee comms and corporate reporting and have experienced having less to do but none of my existing projects were cancelled and the clients still need to report. However what concerns me is whether the business will return to pre-Covid levels let alone experience growth.

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