Wage scales

Design Week’s annual salary survey shows evidence of some encouraging trends. With rates increasing across the board, there is real reason for celebration.

If we needed proof that there’s a shortage of heavyweight designers in the industry, the results of this year’s salary survey provide it. A creative director for a London consultancy can expect to earn just over 50 000 a year – a 30 per cent increase on last year’s figure of 38 500. Lower down the hierarchy, a senior designer’s pay has risen 21 per cent, from almost 25 000 last year to 30 200 this.

Top of the pile are creative directors working in multimedia, who can command almost 55 000. They are followed by London-based creative directors in interiors and architecture (52 700) and exhibition design (just over 51 000). But, among senior designers it’s product design which tips the balance, averaging 33 300 a year, followed by multimedia (30 700).

This huge surge in remuneration at a senior level is fuelled by a shortage of candidates for the top creative jobs as a result of the early Nineties recession. Jobs weren’t there for this “lost generation” to get the experience to move up the chain.

But this isn’t the only factor and it’s not only the very top people who have seen pay rises way above the rate of inflation. Greater prosperity all round over the past couple of years has had a knock on effect on the salaries of designers at all levels. London-based middleweight and junior designers, for example, have seen a 15 per cent increase on last year. Middleweights are now earning almost 21 250 on average, compared with less than 18 500 last year, and junior salaries are up to 14 500 from 12 700.

The national picture is even more positive, with designers’ salaries up an average of 26 per cent across the board. Creative directors command the highest increase – from 34 047 in our 1997 trawl to 45 640 this year. Junior, middleweight and senior designers have seen rises of 28 per cent, 29 per cent and 28 per cent respectively, to average salaries of 14 605, 21 287 and 29 074 for the three levels.

UK groups have, meanwhile, increased the size of their design teams by some 27 per cent across the board of design disciplines, putting pressure on the pool of talented designers available. Things appear to be settling down, with projections of an increase in design staff of just under 6 per cent forecast for next year, but it will be a while before juniors have built up a portfolio that starts to fill the experience gap.

On the business front, the best paid job is, inevitably, that of managing director. Recognition of the importance of this role, and the restructuring the more sophisticated London groups have gone through, has meant a massive 50 per cent hike in salary for the job. Managing directors’ pay now averages 71 000 in London, compared with just over 47 250 last year, the most lucrative disciplines being multimedia (77 000), interiors and architecture (74 500) and exhibition design (73 000). Across the country, the average is 61 919, 30 per cent up on last year’s 47 300.

New business people are, meanwhile, earning their keep, judging by how busy most London groups are currently. But consultancy bosses are having to pay well for their skills. We can’t give a direct year-on-year comparison, but a new-business director now commands an average 46 275 a year, while last year’s rate for a “business developer” was some 29 250. Interiors and architecture pay best here (51 400), followed by multimedia (48 200) with packaging and branding and product design paying 45 250 or more.

National averages include 42 965 for a new-business director, 35 902 for an account director and 23 597 for an account handler.

In last week’s trawl of recruitment agencies (DW 30 October), top scorer Gabriele Skelton pointed to a new, healthier relationship between designers and “suits”. The brighter designers have realised that new business people and account handlers have a vital role to play and that design-friendly suits do exist. It is a question of putting the right team together for the project, including people from both sides of the fence. This new-found maturity is reflected in the higher rates of pay reported across the board this year. Long may it continue.

Freelance rates

The freelance market is still thriving, despite a huge rise in the number of staff employed this year (27 per cent for London consultancies).

Freelance rates have risen significantly over the past 12 months to an average 22.40 an hour across all disciplines, suggesting it is a growing market. The hourly rate for freelances in print graphics is up 22 per cent from an average 18.50 last year to 22.65 this. Surprisingly, corporate identity work commands the slightly lower rate of 21.90; packaging and branding, meanwhile, pays 24.92 an hour – the highest rate of any discipline.

Freelances in interiors and architecture have improved their lot by an incredible 76 per cent, from 12 an hour to an average 21.19. We can only assume that the interiors sector has picked up enough to mean more work for consultancies, but that like other disciplines over the past couple of years, consultancies are relying on freelances to take up the slack But exhibition design freelances can only expect an average 20.29 – the lowest rate of all.

What we did

We have based our findings on a questionnaire which was circulated to some 350 consultancies across the UK, including design consultancies featured in our 1998 Top 100 and Creative surveys. This yielded a 21 per cent response.

The bulk of respondents list graphics among the disciplines they cover, with 57 per cent handling print and 43 per cent specialising in packaging and branding. Corporate identity is covered by 61 per cent. Multimedia, meanwhile, accounts for 36 per cent.

Some 36 per cent of respondents said they worked in interiors and architecture, with 25 per cent listing exhibitions. Product design is handled by 21 per cent.

Latest articles