Give Web design the respect it has earned

It’s ironic that the area of design that can command some of the industry’s highest salaries is the one that suffers most from a lack of understanding – and ultimately respect – by clients.

The findings of the recruitment and training consultancy Corps Business about pay for Web design (see “News Analysis”) reinforce the results of Design Week’s 1998 Salary Survey (DW 6 November 1998). Designers and management folk in this area are deemed more valuable than other staff, possibly because there has been no quick route to qualifying in the digital arts. With specialist degree courses in their infancy, people with experience have got there by sheer determination and from a host of different backgrounds. Deepend founders Gary Lockton and Simon Waterfall, for example, studied product design, Bamber Forsyth’s director of new media Mark Wilson came from architecture, while Malcolm Garratt, design director of AMXstudios, is the doyen of Seventies pop graphics.

Digital design has grown apace over the past few years – witness Deepend’s amazing growth to 77 staff over its five-year life and the proliferation of magazines dedicated to the subject. Websites and other screen-based media are key communication tools for businesses and brands these days, helping to convey everything from the financial data traditionally confined to the annual report to a lifestyle image. All of this is available to a wider international audience than would otherwise be possible.

But the people who create that communication channel have yet to get the recognition they deserve from clients who are only just learning the value of the medium. We’ve seen many a digital design group go to the wall through pitiful fees and desperate cashflow problems. It doesn’t help that ad agencies and some of the bigger design groups throw it in as a freebie for clients, in a bid to reel in a major ad campaign or identity programme.

The good news is that some of the key players in the creative industries are taking digital design to heart, particularly those on the identity front. Wolff Olins is doing good work here and now WPP Group has brought together its global multimedia interests under the umbrella, echoing its Enterprise IG corporate identity empire.

These businesses may not prove as nimble as the small creative hot shops – time will tell. But we look to their managements to use the clout in the board room they’ve earned through their identity dealings to get digital design higher up the business agenda.

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