Salaries may be up, but so is part-time work trend

Design Week’s latest salary survey gives a strong indication that optimism has returned to design (see page 14). Salaries are up significantly in most positions, but particularly for senior jobs, with non-London staff reaping the greatest rewards after a couple of years of stagnation.

Add to this the recent boom in job ads in our Recruitment section and reports from consultancies that they’re very busy and you can believe that life is getting back to normal. Hold on to this thought, because confidence fuels creativity and that in turn is likely to lead to better work – and more of it.

But consider two things before going overboard on elation. First, the pay increases highlighted in the survey are historic, given over the past 12 months and often to senior people, who may have foregone rises previously to help the business through tough times.

Second, though pay is a measure of someone’s worth, management experts have cautioned consultancies to cut overheads and reward staff in other ways. Share options, sabbaticals and the like spring to mind.

Heed that caution until we can be confident that workloads are stable and that the ‘busyness’ consultancies report relates to real projects and not just resource-draining pitches. Solid evidence of any upturn should come next spring, when the DW Top 100 trawl gives consultancies’ financial performance for 2004. This and next year’s salary survey should identify shifts in the industry that will lay future foundations.

What is that future? We have already witnessed polarisation between ‘owned’ consultancies and independents. Now mergers are on the agenda again for both, with Interpublic Group rumoured to be taking on a product group and a high-profile deal between a design group and an ad agency in the offing.

One thing is sure. Out of all this a new breed of player is emerging in design – the experienced part-timer. As new pieces fall into place, more senior people are choosing to work only a few, highly paid days a week, if that, with their existing group or as a consultant elsewhere. Not many key players are opting to set up a new venture along the old design group model.

There are, of course, exceptions who have done none of this – David Chaloner moved to Conran & Partners when his position at Conran Design Group, which is now shedding more staff (see News, page 3), became untenable and Intro’s Adrian Shaughnessy is focusing on writing rather than design.

It will be interesting to see what impact this growing bunch of potent, but quasi-independent folk has on salaries next year – and whether they will merit a wage band of their own in next year’s survey.

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