Design Week Salary Survey 2007

It’s been a year of consolidation for designers, with money going where it matters most – retaining experienced staff, developing new-style freelance contracts and attracting digital and packaging creatives – but managers are suffering.

 Design Week Salary Survey 2007

Everyone wants to be wanted. And if you are a designer, that is precisely the situation that you probably find yourself in now. But, according to our latest salary survey, you shouldn’t necessarily expect this to translate into a bigger pay packet, although employers may be finding other ways of keeping you happy. If, however, you work in account management, the outlook is not quite so rosy, and you may have to accept a little less.

In our last survey, conducted at the end of 2005, we found a volatile market in which there was little upward pressure on salaries, and even some marked drops for the top jobs. The picture our new survey paints is more complicated.

Buoyancy is a word much favoured by recruitment consultants – it’s one we’ve heard a lot of recently – and they are much more confident about the market now than they have been for a long time. Yet the figures they supply do not show salary increases, even for areas such as digital design where demand is intense. Few designers’ salaries have outpaced inflation, and those for new management roles seem to have weakened significantly. However, nearly all are agreed that it’s a candidate-led market.

Salaries for designers outside of London show the largest increases, but this finding may just reflect a better response to the survey from recruitment consultancies outside the capital than in previous trawls.

Creatives versus suits
Broadly speaking, our survey suggests good times are in store for designers, particularly outside London, with high demand if not rocketing salary levels. Design consultancies, it would seem, are placing an emphasis on creativity and productivity, and prefer to spend money on retaining existing clients and staff, rather than on chasing new business – always a more expensive approach to success.

A new business director in London can now expect to get an average of £53 416, down 24 per cent from the £66 354 in our last survey. The increase in salaries for new business directors outside London is perhaps just a reflection of the fact that it is rare for smaller consultancies outside the capital to employ them. Suits – including managing directors – are simply earning less than before.

Staff retention
As well as keeping existing clients sweet, retention of staff has become much more important, according to recruitment experts.

‘Consultancies are wise to the fact that they must pay the market rate for staff – and on occasion even more – to get and keep the best,’ says Kerrie Rayner at Graphics Personnel.

Ann Sharman of Price Jamieson agrees, saying, ‘We are finding consultancies are fighting much harder to try to keep, or buy back, candidates, when they hand in their notice,’ she says.

Some recruitment consultants have seen employers offering their top designers hefty salary increases – as much as 17 per cent – to keep them on board.

Work-life balance
Given that design still tends to be a cottage industry, it’s not surprising that benefits still lag way behind what employees can expect in other areas of work. Perhaps because money is tighter than many would admit, other staff incentives are becoming more widely available. ‘Consultancies do not always sell themselves to candidates based on the benefits they offer, thinking they are often only interested in salary. But, softer benefits such as company away days and training courses are often equally attractive and demonstrate that they want to “grow” their staff,’ says Paul Wood at Purple.

Holidays are the most obvious benefit, and one that is particularly important for consultancies to consider when attempting to get freelances – who have got used to a freer life – back into permanent employment, says Ian Coulson at Mustard. ‘We have recently seen more consultancies offering five weeks annual holiday plus Christmas as part of a package,’ he adds.

Similarly, companies that avoid a ‘late culture’, working 9am to 5pm, are nowadays very appealing to potential employees.

New approaches
Recruitment consultants are frustrated by what they see as short-sighted recruitment policies. ‘It’s not unusual for a client to spend months looking for the ideal candidate, when it could have trained up someone with a little experience much sooner and eased the workload of existing employees,’ explains RPCushing’s Grant Richard.

Not only do design consultancies often overlook the possibility of ‘growing their own’, but they also put insufficient thought into the recruitment process itself, say recruitment agents. ‘Potential employers need to really focus on recruitment and make it a high priority if they want to attract good candidates, and they must therefore make their consultancies and the recruitment process as attractive as possible. In a market short of candidates, it is imperative they take this very seriously,’ says Kim Crawford of Periscope.

Investing in young talent is a perennial issue in design. Interestingly, rather than complaining about a deluge of young designers, a number of recruitment consultancies are now reporting a shortage of junior designers, perhaps one of the more reliable signs that things really are picking up.

Stuart Newman, of Network, says, ‘We are concerned about the lack of good interiors graduates. A large proportion are overseas students and they are unable to work legally in this country.’

From the responses we received, it is clear that the clamour for middleweight designers has increased. This shortage is a legacy of the recession at the beginning of the decade, which limited the intake from that period. At the other end of the spectrum, there seem to be plenty of candidates for the top positions, as might be expected given the reduced number of opportunities at the level of design or creative director.

In terms of disciplines, digital/interactive/experiential is clearly the hottest area at the moment, but recruitment consultants also consistently mention packaging as an area of great demand. Branding and interiors are also areas where designers will find the going easy if they have the right training and experience.

Work patterns
There are signs that work patterns are shifting slightly too in the face of the continuing attraction of freelancing. ‘Contracts, particularly six-month ones, are the new freelance,’ says Nathan Myatt at Workstation. ‘Many consultancies and in-house studios are looking to take people on short-term contracts rather than permanently or on a freelance basis. This is to limit risk and cost.’

Not surprisingly, not everyone’s crystal ball looks the same. However, our survey points to an optimism across the board about salary increases, and shows that many expect design consultancies to be actively looking to recruit extra staff in the near future.

Valerie Gascoyne at BDGXchangeteam is one of the most cautious in suggesting only a 3 per cent increase over the next 12 months. Most, however, anticipate increases of 5 per cent and upwards, with some even touching on 15 per cent, on the basis that salaries have been stagnant for such a long time. The higher predictions, though, are for those areas such as packaging where it is most difficult to recruit.

It should be pointed out, however, that almost everyone who responded thought freelance rates were looking healthier, although some said they were over-inflated. ‘Freelance rates have remained strong, and in some cases, they have increased by over 100 per cent in the past two years,’ says Network’s Newman. ‘Is this sustainable in the long term, and are people becoming greedy in a very candidate-driven market? We know that, at the business end, competition is still tough and clients are being squeezed on their profit margins. The economic cycle will inevitably slow, and clients have a habit of remembering the freelance who turned down a week’s work because the rate offered was “only” £300 a day.’

One major design consultancy, one of the few brave enough to reply to our survey, suggests pay increases of 5 per cent over the coming year, with the smaller increase of 3 per cent for the more senior posts, noting, however, that ‘salaries and costs continue to rise, and fees are still falling and being squeezed’.

Whether the recent stockmarket jitters suggest the clouds gathering on the horizon will lead to a short storm or a longer period of economic uncertainty, no-one yet knows. But designers will hope that current levels of demand will translate into higher salaries, as much as employers will be attempting to keep wages down. For the time being at least, freelancing will be an attractive option for both sides. It’s where the money is, and it is an area to which Design Week will return later in the year with a survey dedicated to freelance rates.

 Design Week Salary Survey 2007

Hide Comments (14)Show Comments (14)
  • November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    How can the salary for Print graphics Studio Manager be only £28,700 for London while outer London is £30,667?

  • neil vonk November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    yeh, it all looks great, but if there are no jobs to go to, then what would be the point in presenting this to your employer?

    They will just say – er – if your not happy with what your earning go somewhere else then!

    That being the problem, there is no where to go!

  • ES123 November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I am earning £15,500 as a Junior Designer just outside London, literally on the borders of zone 6. I’ve been here 20months, have a degree and was told I was more qualified than they expected to find. How much should I be looking for now? I can barely afford to live in London, it’s ridiculous! £500 is the only raise since I joined.

  • pip November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Salaries are extremely varied across London for designers (junior to senior) one company will be paying £15,000 for a junior and another will be paying £22,000 for pretty much the same thing. It is such a competative market to get into as a designer. You can’t possibly live in London on anything under £20,000.

  • Rik November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I am senior graphic designer with more then 15 years of experience. Living and working in London as a freelancer I found, that in this town is hard to find proper good paid job. While being contacted by many head hunters from abroad Hong Kong, Prague, Paris, Middle East..etc for Creative director and Head of design positions, which I turned down I could not find a permanent job in London so far. It is very strange..

  • mark November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Im a freelance mechanical designer working in the northwest. there is lots of work around at the moment and the going rate is about £24 an hour!

  • hassan November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    less pay go to sleep

  • Rachel November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    I havent got a clue if Im on a good wage, but I think I am. Im certainly better off than if I were still in my job I had a uni full time at being an optical assistant in a supermarket.

    I graduated this summer and was lucky to find a job on my doorstep and I enjoy it. I asked for £18,000, thinking they might bring me own to £15,000, but they didnt. So I was chuffed. Trouble is, Im getting greedy.

    When is a good time to ask for a pay review and how much higher should I ask? £20,000? Is this too much? Thanks!

  • nicole November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    all i want to know is how much u get paid for being a graphic art desinger? i have to do this for my school i go to the ACJVS in jefferson im in graphic arts 2 and i was sent to the librray to find out info on what a graphic deisgner is all about and if you would please help me understand what a graphic designer is i would be a happer person

    thank you for your time


  • Rich November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Maybe Nicle would make herself more emplyable by learning correct grammar and spelling

  • Rachael November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    NICHOLE is obviously at school ‘Rich’ so don’t be so mean spirited as to criticise her spelling or grammar. She was only asking for some advice and if you can’t be bothered to offer any why not just not say anything rather than make a nasty comment. What are you, some playground bully? Here is a suggestion for you GROW UP.

  • Reece November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This is a very interesting article. I am due to have an annual review and has cleared up a few questions about a possible salary review. I have been doing design for around 5 years and have a good salary for Central London (as that is where I work). It is hard for you juniors to know and understand how much you are ‘worth’ . The only thing to do is to work hard and press for a rise if you can honestly feel you deserve it. Any decent company will ablige to give you a rise if they see your efforts and are ‘cost effective’.

  • nicdesign November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    pip and E123, where do you live if you can’t afford to live in London for less than £20,000?! I just started out at £17k and I’m doing fine.
    You’ve got to be willing to live a less exciting job if you want a career, otherwise, i’m sure management somewhere else would be better paid.

  • Heather November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I graduated in 2005 and went travelling straight after that. Upon my return a worked for a while in retail and then finally found a job as designer for a greetings card company in Hemel hempstead.
    I’m aware that my salary is obviously not going to be as high as those who…a)have experience and b)work in london.
    I was started on £13,000 for my trial and probationary period. Due to have a review at the end of the month, i presume that if i have proved myself then my salary should increase?!
    But I’m unsure about what sort of salary i should be on. Any ideas?

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