“Two words: win awards”: top tips on landing a pay rise

Last week, we discovered that graphic designers get paid £3,000 less than the average UK salary. So what can they do to fill their pockets more sufficiently? Designers offer advice on how to negotiate a higher wage.

Paul Cardwell, executive creative director, Brand Union

“It doesn’t take 100 words, it only takes two – win awards.

Designers tend to be suspicious of awards, because they are not like people in advertising; they don’t want to appear boastful or arrogant.

But the simple fact is that nothing increases your value more than doing work that people know – and people know award-winning work. There is so much stuff out there now, it’s impossible to see it all, so the award systems are where we see the best work exhibited. So study the winners, learn from them and enter.

Also, learn to tell the story of your thinking. Rehearse this with a trusted friend. Watch every YouTube video of Pentagram partner and prolific speaker Michael Bierut. Learn to explain your reasoning, and let people see your logic. Let them see that you are more than a designer – you are a thinker.”

Vicky Bullen, CEO, Coley Porter Bell

“First off and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask – too many of us are. This especially applies to women. You also need to know when to ask. Many businesses – especially those that are part of a network – will have set times when they can award pay rises. Pay increases do not always align with performance reviews.

Then when you ask, have your reasons and justifications laid out clearly. Think about these questions: how have you grown? What value have you added to the business? Where have you really made a difference? Know what you are worth and what you want, but be realistic. The days of annual pay rises are pretty much gone.

If you can’t get a pay rise, put a plan in place for how you will and what you need to do to get one. And in the meantime, think about how else the business might add value to you – for example, through training and flexible working.”

Sam Farrow, creative and managing director, Farrow Creative

“Since I run my own business, I’m usually across the table in pay negotiations. But below-average salaries for graphic designers suggest that, as an industry, we don’t truly value ourselves or our work. Free pitching is a case in point: if you’re prepared to give away ideas on spec, what does that say about their worth? The same goes for surrendering original files without charging. We need to think, operate – and even dress – so that clients are in no doubt we are professional people worthy of our fees. Would they haggle with their lawyers?”

Pippa Nissen, director, Nissen Richards Studio

“My advice would be that you don’t need to work endless hours and overtime – just do your work really efficiently and effortlessly during the time you are in the studio. I also think having a can-do attitude and being flexible is really key, a positive person is nice to have around.

Try doing something outside your comfort zone too; say you haven’t done it before but give your best and show that you’re trying. Linked to this, is to be sure of your creative voice, but also show your efficient, technical side.

Taking an interest in the mechanics of the studio is also an area to explore – and the difficulty of balancing resources and profit against fees and client expectation. It’s always a huge relief when someone is interested and aware of the different forces at work.”

Are you willing to give away your top tips for designers on landing a pay rise? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Emma Booty December 8, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I so agree with Vicky’s point, don’t be afraid to ask. Simmering resentment, feeling under-valued, just builds and builds and stops our imaginations. The last thing we want. Take a deep breathe and start talking to your boss – it might not be an immediate win but starting the conversation in a positive, constructive way will ultimately be rewarding.

  • Bruce Smith December 8, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Read ‘It’s not how good you are, It’s how good you want to be’ by Paul Arden. That book rocketed me up through the ranks, quick sharp. Constantly surprise and delight your superiors, the more you create work which is easier for them to sell in the quicker you will climb the ladder. Enjoy the ride!

  • Neil Littman December 9, 2017 at 10:11 am

    It was one of the best things about going freelance that I never had to ask for a pay rise again. However going back to when I started, there were companies (mainly the small ones) I worked for who never discussed pay rises and expected you to ‘move on’ elsewhere. Sometimes that could work spectacularly in your favour.

    For me, it was all about timing and of course, achievements, like winning pitches, or an award or even representing the company, as I did when I was a judge at the Association of Illustrators and gave a talk at the RCA. Anything that made you stand out was worth doing as much for your self worth and being articulate when it came to that all important review conversation.

    Towards the late 70’s the companies I worked for seemed to have structured pay rises and reviews into the equation and this went on well into the next 20 years. I think it all changed after the recessions of 2001 and 2008 and uncertainty crept into the design industry which has been passed down to those wanting a pay rise. You were made to feel lucky to have a job etc. and all the insecurity it involved. Also it was a fact that nobody discussed what they earned.

    And just for the record, I only asked for a pay rise once in 25 years and got it.

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