Pay for today

In this year’s salary survey, Design Week and Major Players find that things are looking up. Staffing has stabilised, new media and design management are booming and growth is predicted by everyone

The big picture

Confidence is back in design, with consultancies expecting to add staff over the coming year and designers looking to move jobs to meet new challenges and increase their pay.

Design groups are looking to expand their teams by some 28 per cent over the next 12 months, according to Design Week’s latest trawl of staffing and pay within the UK design industry. This follows an increase in full-time staff of just over 11 per cent over the past year reported by respondents to the survey.

And recruitment advertising is likely to be the preferred way of doing it for 35 per cent of respondents. Recruitment agencies are popular with 29 per cent, while 28 per cent rely on word of mouth.

The move is a welcome shift from the situation we reported in our last salary survey almost two years ago (DW 17 February 1995). Then we were relieved that the UK design industry had finally stabilised its staffing after years of redundancies across the board. At the time more than half of the consultancies we trawled said that though they weren’t planning to reduce their teams during 1995, they wouldn’t be adding to them either; now the figures paint a very much more positive picture.

National rates of pay for creative teams across all disciplines currently range from an average 11 727 for a junior designer to 16 590 for a middleweight designer and 22 638 for a senior designer. A creative director working with the consultancies sampled can expect 32 089 a year – though recruitment consultancy Major Players says that 35 000 and upwards is more usual in top design groups – and a consultancy managing director can command an average of 40 437.

New media, product design and retail are generally the most lucrative disciplines for designers at the bottom end of the career ladder, paying 13 125, 12 416 and 12 250 respectively for a junior designer. But as designers become more experienced, packaging design tops the pay charts, with senior packaging designers earning 24 454 on average and creative directors taking home a cool 38 454.

Top earners in management are managing directors of new media consultancies, earning some 50 000 a year, with packaging group heads relegated to second place with 47 777.

New media groups also pay their admin, marketing and sales teams well, an account handler earning 27 750, a business development person 30 750 and a project manager 26 000. Meanwhile, new media artworkers can expect19 000 in their pay packet each year.

“Suits” within consultancies can expect to earn more than design staff, with account handlers earning an average 22 000, new business development staff taking home just under 26 500 and project managers meriting just over 23 500. Studio staff, described in our questionnaire as Mac artworkers, earn an average 17 125 a year according to our sample, but this is considerably lower than the 30 000 Major Players maintains the best operators can command, especially with good Photoshop or |systems management experience.

The inevitable regional variations exist, with London consultancies paying their creative teams the highest rates on average – some 6 per cent more, in fact. Scotland lags behind the rest by some 9 per cent for designers’ pay.

Retail design pays best for designers in the capital (13 750 for a junior to 27 833 for a senior designer), but creative directors in packaging earn more than any of their peers in other disciplines ( 41 875).

Over the past few months DW has charted the increase in traffic between design groups and their clients. There are more openings now for designers to pick up design management jobs on the client side, and for clients to join the marketing and management teams within consultancies.

Designers going the client route can expect a salary of around 25 000 on average. For those in London, it’s more likely to approach 26 000, while north of the border Scottish clients might pay as much as 28 500.


Almost 60 per cent of our sample said they employed freelance staff, a trend that started as the green shoots of recovery started to show through recession and has continued since. The average rate they pay is just over 17 an hour or 124 a day. None of the respondents said they pay freelances on a project basis.

Life in design has for a while been one of snatched lunches, late nights and endless client meetings. But this survey suggests that design groups are now bringing in work at a rate to merit expansion. There’s movement again, as the hiring starts in earnest. Long may it last.

What they said

Our telephone trawl of selected consultancies backs up the results gleaned through number-crunching responses to the questionnaire. The message is clear: leading UK design groups are hiring again as the flow of work evens out after years of instability.

Jonathan Sands says his Leeds consultancy Elmwood has seen a 35 per cent growth in turnover, and this, he reckons, equates with recruitment. Laurie Light of London graphics group Light & Coley detects “a definite upturn in the economy”, while Interbrand creative director Chris Lightfoot feels his group can “plan for growth” as “the volume of work is increasing”. Lightfoot says his team is going “from famine to feast” at present, and is using freelances to support the increased workload.

For new media groups, growth is rapid. Nick Crean, a director of CCC Wadlow, predicts a 100 per cent growth rate within the next financial year, which will see the consultancy’s staff base double.

An interesting move is the current willingness of consultancies to re-invest in their staff through regular salary appraisals. Most still review pay on an annual basis, but there is an increase in ad hoc performance-related bonuses and salary increases.

Elmwood is among the forward-thinking, encouraging personal development of staff by “allowing them to set their own goals”, a system Sands feels is more positive than traditional appraisals. Light & Coley also operates a system of self-appraisal, where staff assess their own strengths and weaknesses.

Many consultancies are setting training budgets for the coming year, with new media as a key area of training activity. For example, Zuilmah Wallis, marketing director at Fitch, says her group is “investing time and effort into training staff in technology and sponsoring staff to do courses”. Glen Kinnersley of Kinnersley Kent is meanwhile sending staff on fact-finding trips abroad to help with their personal development.

And there’s hope for new graduates, as many groups claim they are consciously recruiting college leavers again. Elmwood and Fitch, for example, operate student placement programmes which have proved successful in identifying future employees. Colin Porter of Coley Porter Bell has “increased an active policy of recruiting graduates”, and Interbrand’s Lightfoot is taking on graduates “to train them up”.

The recruitment of account-handling staff is on the up again, though it is often difficult to find the right person. Consultancies feel getting the right balance between creative staff and account handlers is essential, with groups such as Coley Porter Bell aiming for twice as many creatives as account handlers.

Increasingly, design groups are looking to industry for account-handling staff, recruiting individuals from the client side who, they find, have “the right management skills”.

There is still a skills shortage in certain areas. Light & Coley’s Laurie Light claims there’s still a shortage of middleweight creatives and hopes this “won’t ripple through the industry leaving us with no seniors in years to come”. His team is addressing the problem by putting designers on a “fast-track” to promotion. Fitch meanwhile finds it hard to recruit good computer-aided design operators, but Kinnersley Kent is optimistic that young graduates will plug that particular gap.

So, it’s good news all round. There are problems in recruitment, but most groups are taking them on board in their own way – and few seem insurmountable.

How it was done

Survey findings are based on a questionnaire circulated to some 1000 named individuals in design groups across all disciplines and from all geographical areas within the UK. DW readers were also invited to apply for a form.

This elicited a response of around 10 per cent, and the results were analysed with the help of Fiona Chapman of London recruitment consultant Major Players, who also canvassed the opinions of a mix of consultancies by phone.

Groups filling in the questionnaire were predominantly design consultancies (82 per cent), though a further 12 per cent described themselves as freelances or sole practitioners. Graphics is the main activity of respondents (76 per cent) with corporate design accounting for 36 per cent, packaging a further 23 per cent and exhibition design is the specialism of 21 per cent. Interiors and architecture accounts for 19 per cent, 9 per cent do product design. Retail accounts for the interest of 7 per cent, 3 per cent design furniture and 5 per cent are involved in new media. The average size of consultancy was just over 11 staff.

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