Ring of confidence

The latest and last of the Design Week trends surveys confirms our summer 1994 findings that, after a hard few years, things are finally looking up for design

SBHD: The latest and last of the Design Week trends surveys confirms our summer 1994 findings that, after a hard few years, things are finally looking up for design

The good news? After all the trauma of the past few years, design has finally hit stability and growth. As we bow out with our final six-monthly survey of industry trends, we can report that optimism is the order of the day. The volume of new business was up for almost two-thirds of survey respondents in the second half of last year, surpassing projections for the period, and with forecasts of growth by a bullish 64 per cent, everyone is smiling.

Well, not quite everyone, judging by the shortfall in consultancies saying the value of new business went up last year. Only 44 per cent say they earned more from the increase in work, with 49 per cent looking for income to rise by the summer.

These figures are up a little on projections given in our last trawl (DW 5 August 1994), but indications are that more work is still being done for the same or lower fees than previously. Projections on fee-income for the six months to December 1994 proved slightly ambitious, with 46 per cent of respondents reporting an increase. A total of 43 per cent are looking towards an upward trend over the next six months. But the overall picture is one of consolidation and stability, despite that increase in volume of work.

And people appear to be working harder. While full-time staff levels were up ever so slightly in the second half of last year – an increase in total payroll for 2 per cent of respondents over last summer’s levels, with 4 per cent saying design teams had grown – freelance numbers dropped back in proportion, and still that workload keeps building up.

The good news here is that relatively few consultancies dropped design staff during the six-month period – 5 per cent, compared with 8 per cent reported in the previous survey. Only 1 per cent of respondents are expecting job losses in the first half of 1995.

A significant feature in the latest trawl is a rise in workload for overseas clients reported by 37 per cent of respondents – 5 per cent up on the summer figure and 9 per cent ahead of projections. A third of respondents expect this upward trend to continue in the first half of the year, though the majority cautiously expect overseas workload to remain much the same.

The value of overseas projects follows a similar pattern, with the work – up in volume for 37 per cent – representing a similar proportion of total income for 58 per cent of respondents to the survey, and 31 per cent saying it has increased.

Similar competition for work as before is expected from design groups in the rest of Europe, with Germany and France again making the strongest showing.

Looking at the findings in terms of sectors, graphics groups have seen the greatest increase in volume of work – up for 45 per cent of respondents and remaining the same for another 49 per cent. This trend is reflected in the optimism of this sector, with 52 per cent projecting increases in workload and 45 per cent expecting it to remain the same.

Corporate literature projects increased in volume for 53 per cent of respondents, with 39 per cent seeing work staying the same as in the previous six months. A bullish 64 per cent expect an increase in literature work over the next six months, with 33 per cent predicting no change.

Packaging too is up slightly on the previous results, with 39 per cent reporting a rise in work in the six months to December 1994 and 48 per cent seeing no change at all. A healthy 47 per cent expect the upturn to continue in the first half of the year.

Commercial interiors work has stabilised at last, with 67 per cent maintaining levels in the second half of last year and 26 per cent reporting an increase. Some 54 per cent hope to hold this position for another six months, with 39 per cent predicting more work. It’s been a hard slog here, and promises to be so for some time until the property market picks up again in such high-density office areas as central London.

Elsewhere in interiors, retail specialists have held their own over the past six months, with 59 per cent of survey respondents maintaining previous levels of workload and 24 per cent seeing an increase. But 48 per cent are expecting to experience a spurt of activity in the first half of this year with increased orders coming in, and another 48 per cent foresee no change. Product designers will settle for stability, with 64 per cent hoping to achieve this over the coming six months and 31 per cent looking to increase workload. This is a similar picture to that painted for the past six months, when workloads remained static for 61 per cent, and 32 per cent saw a rise.

The only sector predicting a significant downturn in work is exhibition design. In a week that museums are reported to be the main tourist attraction, in London at least, exhibition designers across the country are resigning themselves to another few months of pushing and hoping the work comes through.

Just over half of respondents to the survey (51 per cent) were able to maintain previous workload levels over the second half of last year and 30 per cent saw an increase in workload. Similar figures are being cautiously quoted for the first half of this year. But for 19 per cent there were fewer new contracts during the six months to December 1994, and 15 per cent expect to see this trend continue.

Overall though, the signs are pretty good. When we started the series of six-monthly trends surveys back in February 1992, we were looking for the “green shoots” of recovery, which have been so long in coming. This latest trawl – our seventh and last – may not have seen the industry really blooming again, but the spadework appears to be paying off and at least the design industry is now going through a period of stability and steady growth. There are, in fact, only minor differences between the findings published this week and those of last summer.

Thank you to all who have taken part in the surveys – a dedicated sample of Design Week readers – and good luck to everyone.


The findings published here were once again based on a questionnaire sent to a selected group of some 1000 Design Week readers, the aim being to create a picture of the current health of the UK design industry and projections for the next six months.

The questionnaires elicited a response of some 10 per cent, and the results were once again analysed by independent London management consultant AEA.


Most of the respondents hold senior management positions in UK design consultancies. The vast majority (79 per cent) are in consultancies employing 20 or fewer full-time staff, with 31 per cent coming from groups of five or fewer people. Some 52 per cent of the total employ five or fewer designers.

Corporate literature is by far the most common activity, with 93 per cent of respondents carrying out work in this field. A total of 70 per cent are involved in corporate identity, 55 per cent in general graphics and 45 per cent in packaging. Commercial interiors account for 26 per cent, with a further 19 per cent specialising in retail design. Some 20 per cent specialise in product design and 27 per cent undertake exhibition work.

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