Reeling it in

Design Week and Major Players have again trawled the design industry to find what people are paid. The results are promising. Are you netting the right sum?

The news is positive again this year with staffing levels up over last year, and design groups looking to recruit over the next 12 months. General opinion is that the industry is buzzing and clients are once again putting their faith into design. Meanwhile, the intervention of Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Government ministers is raising the profile of design and we can only hope that this will lead to new areas of work for consultancies in the future.

According to Design Week’s latest survey of employment trends and pay levels within the UK, staffing levels at design consultancies are up 15 per cent since last year and average projections reflect a further increase of 20 per cent for 1998. This confirms the results published in the DW Top 100 Consultancy Survey (DW 21 March), where we reported that design teams are bigger overall with a projected increased of 10-20 per cent.

Not so good, however, is the news that, on a national level, salaries across all disciplines seem to have stabilised with little or no increase since last year. The results from our survey show a national average of 11 387 for a junior designer, 16 528 for a middleweight designer and 22 781 for a senior designer. Studio staff, referred to as Mac artworkers/operators in our questionnaire, can expect to earn 17 395, while creative directors can command 34 047.

Salaries are inevitably healthier in the capital, where a junior designer can expect an average of 12 719 per annum, a middleweight designer 18 436, and a senior designer 24 914. In London, the Mac artworker/operator can expect 19 473 in his pay packet and the creative director 38 526. This reflects a marginal improvement over DW’s figures for 1996.

Within the individual disciplines, retail and product design seem to be the most lucrative at the lower end of the salary scale, with packaging design coming a close third. Product design comes out tops for those with more experience, with a creative director earning 42 000.

The top earner on the management side is once again new media, with managing directors of new media groups taking home a national average of 53 500. Continuing the overall trend, product and retail design come next, with managing directors in these disciplines earning 48 800 and 47 500 respectively.

Just over half of our sample (53 per cent) feel they are underpaid in relation to other industries, stating that they would expect a pay increase should they change jobs. Reasons for moving jobs include wanting a new challenge and a desire to produce more creative work.

Discontent over salaries could be due to a couple of factors. First, design groups are notoriously bad at charging the right fees for projects, often undercutting to get work, and are more likely to see their work as “a labour of love”, working long hours to meet the deadline without expecting that effort to be reflected in salaries or to be paid for working overtime. Second, recession meant that people hung on to their jobs, if they had them, and were happy with a small per cent annual increase, if that. Third, the crossover between advertising and design may not have have been widespread, but it has been significant enough for designers working in consultancies to get wind of the kind of salaries other creative industries can command. This is particularly true for graphics and branding groups in London.


It has been a good year for freelances with 86 per cent of respondents saying they employ freelance staff, as compared to last year’s response of only 60 per cent.

Rates of pay vary greatly across the design disciplines, with graphics commanding on average 18.50 an hour, and interiors/architecture just over 12 per hour. Payment by the hour seems to be the most popular method, though, unlike last year, many respondents say they now pay on a project basis with the fee agreed at the start.

What they said

We canvassed the opinions of a number of recruitment agencies and consultancies by telephone, which confirms the general level of optimism throughout the country.

In Newcastle, Simon Cunningham of Yellow M is positive about the coming year. “The industry is becoming more competitive,” he says, “and this is creating great excitement and enthusiasm.”

And, in the South East, James Pyott confirms that his consultancy Pyott Design has doubled its turnover, doubled its staff, doubled its investment in hardware and tripled its studio space.

However, some still feel that there is a serious skills shortage. Chris Lee, creative director of The Idea Works in Bath, believes there is “still a real shortage of design talent… with no real dynamism even in the experienced designers”.

In new media, Web design is the fastest growing area with the market generally concentrated in the South East.

How it was done

Survey findings are based on a questionnaire circulated to some 1500 named individuals in design groups across all disciplines and from all areas within the UK. Recruitment consultant Major Players distributed the questionnaire to its clients and DW readers were also invited to apply for a form.

The overall response was around 10 per cent, 80 per cent of whom said they ran or worked for design consultancies. A further 6 per cent described themselves as freelance or sole practitioners.

With barriers breaking down in the industry as a whole, it is no surprise that 45 per cent of respondents described themselves as multidisciplinary. Graphic design was the second biggest activity of respondents, accounting for 25 per cent, followed by interiors/architecture with 7 per cent.

Product designers account for 6 per cent and 4 per cent specialise in packaging. Designers involved in new media and exhibition design account for 4 per cent each, with 2 per cent specialising in corporate design, and retail and furniture design accounting for 1 per cent.

We may all be thriving under the economic boom, says Ashley Goodall, but, unless they integrate with other sectors, pure design groups could soon be left out in the cold. Ashley Goodall is a divisional director of recruitment consultants Price Jamieson

If you’re not into new media, integrated communications or high-end branding, you might like to ask yourself where you think your business is likely to be in five years’ time?

How many design consultancies can claim to have developed multimillion pound business over the past three years, yet among new media and integrated agencies this is often the norm. The economy is performing well and it’s easy to kid yourself that business is growing, but relative to other sectors design needs to raise its fees and broaden its approach.

It’s easy for recruitment consultants to see the employment demand patterns across marketing sectors and we find the dynamics creating acute problems for pure design consultancies.

First, there are not enough senior design management personnel to drive opportunities and projects forward, particularly within larger strategic consultancies. This extended downwards towards account management and technical operators. The market is simply too fragmented and competitive, spreading personnel resources too thinly. Consultancies should consider integrating with each other as well as other sectors to pool skills.

Second, design is losing appeal as there are other sectors competing for talent. New media attracts not only younger designers and technicians but, increasingly, strategic account management and marketers. Marketing services sectors such as PR and below-the-line agencies are broadening their operations in a more integrated approach, becoming communications or marketing companies and offer design as part of the package. These people not only pay better, but they afford a broader marketing experience and potentially more career development.

Third, fees have to go up. Design is too competitive within itself and can’t seem to charge out on a par with advertising or other sectors such as PR. If consultancies are able to reinstate fees to pre-1989 levels then they will be able to attract more quality staff and develop their careers through more training.

Fourth, it’s critical for design groups to embrace new media and technology as this sector is bending the ear and pockets of their clients. Pure design groups could end up like the red squirrel as the grey steals their nuts…

On the other hand, if you’re an employee you have rarely had more options as to where and how you’ll work, but the chances are it won’t be in a pure design group.

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