On the money
Are designers badly paid? How much should you charge? What do ad agency creative directors earn? Could you earn more abroad? Our January issue tackles these and other cash-related questions. Here, we share some of the key findings of the research we conducted for the issue
Info graphic from our January issue
First up, to provide context, a snapshot of the UK design industry. According to the Design Council's last comprehensive survey (conducted in 2010), there were 232,000 designers in the UK. While you are reeling from that figure, we should point out that this is an incredible 29% increase from 2005. By now (the survey was done in 2010 remember) it's safe to assume that figure has swelled considerably.
What do they all do?
That same Design Council Survey breaks the 232,000 figure down as follows:
Freelance designers: 65,900 (28%)
In design consultancies 82,500 (36%)
In-house 83,600 (36%)
How much does UK design earn?
Again, according to the Design Council, total fee income for UK design in 2010 was £15bn. Which breaks down as:
Design consultancy fees £7.6bn
Freelancers' fee income £3.6bn
In-house budgets £3.8bn
The £15bn figure sounds impressive and there are some major businesse involved, but not many. In fact, the UK design industry is mostly made up of very small businesses. Almost half UK design studios have annual revenues of less than £50,000. Only 6% generate more than £500,000 per year.
How much do UK design businesses earn?
Source: Design Council Survey, 2010
Annual revenue for UK design consultancies, 2010
Less than £50k 49%
This has a knock-on effect when it comes to the design industry's ablity to act in its own interests – we are talking about a diffuse, diverse industry with constituents who individually have relatively little money to spend on, for example, subscriptions to industry bodies, training and professional development and so on.
But not all design businesses are small or poor. Each year accounting firm Kingston Smith W1 conducts research into the top 30 UK design firms. Together, last year, they brought in £311m in gross income. Imagination brought in the most money with a gross income of just over £46m in the year ending August 2011. It also had the highest number of employees of the top 30 - 430.
Of the Kingston Smith Top 30, Venturethree had the highest gross income per head at £167,659. It was also the most profitable per head, recording £46,585 operating profit for each employee.
What about pay?
Are you earning the right amount?
Major Players 2012 salary survey worked out average national UK salaries for 2012 across a range of job titles in design and branding:
Junior designer: £21,000
Midweight designer: £30,000
Senior designer: £40,000
Design director: £55,000
NB: the figures for junior, senior and design director posts above have been updated as the previous figures were misquoted and relate only to integrated agency salaries. Apologies for the confusion
Pay varies only slightly according to sector
The Design Week 2011 salary survey revealed that designers in print graphics earned on average the least, with packaging, exhibition, interiors and branding higher, but not by more than 10%. More significantly, those working in the digital sector outside London were the big winners in that particular survey, earning a 19% average pay increase on the previous year. On average, designers in London were earning 10-15% more than those outside the capital.
Graphic design as the poor relation
The 2011 Coroflot design salary guide compared average US salaries across architecture, design management, fashion and apparel, graphic design, industrial design, interaction design and interior design from 2006 to 2011. Graphic design had the lowest average salary of all ($53,500 (£33,500)), with design management the highest ($95,000 (£60,000)). Graphic design salaries had gone down on average by nearly 2% in the period
Do US designers earn more?
The Creative Group, Paylandia 2013 survey worked out national average US design salaries by experience for 2012
1 to 3 years $37,250 (£23,500) to $53,000 (£33,000)
3 to 5 years $48,750 (£30,500) to $68,000 (£43,000)
5+ years $61,000 (£38,000) to $83,250 (£52,000)
1 to 5 years $52,000 (£33,000) to $76,500 (£48,000)
5 years + $74,750 (£47,000) to $103,750 (£65,000)
5 to 8 years $89,500 (£56,000) to $124,500 (£78,000)
8+ years $97,250 (£61,000) to $169,500 (£106,000)
While these figures come from the AIGA/Aquent 2012 salary survey:
National US median average for designer in print: $45,000 (£28,000)
National US median average for designer in web/interactive: $55,000 (£35,000
National US median average for creative/design director: $100,000 (£63,000)
The New York premium
In the US, location matters. Thus, a graphic designer with 3 to 5 years experience in New York City can expect to be on between $68,700 (£43,100) and $95,800 (£60,100) while someone doing the same job with the same experience in Memphis will be on between $46,300 (£29,000) and $64,600 (£40,500). Source: Paylandia 2013 survey. Note: As Prescott Perez-Fox notes in the comments below, those figures seem high. The AIGA/Aquent Survey (link above) comes out with an average of around $50,000 for a NY print designer which seems closer to the mark.
Should I move to Australia? Can I earn more there?
Not necessarily. These figures are from the AGDA 2010 survey
Australia national average annual design salaries:
Solo designer A$57,000 (£37,000)
Owner, partner, principal A$106,800 (£69,500)
Creative director A$105,800 (£69,000)
Senior designer A$69,700 (£45,500)
Intermediate designer A$49,600 (£32,300)
Entry-level designer A$40,100 (£26,000)
I feel like I'm badly paid: how does design compare to other professions?
Designers often feel like they are badly paid compared to other professions, so we looked at some comparable careers.
Source: Adrem Architecture Salary Guide 2012
National UK average salaries
Recently qualified architect (0-3 years experience) £33,000
Project architect (3-5 years experience) £38,000
Senior archtect £45,000
Associate director/project director £60,000
Journalism (source Prospects/NUJ)
National UK average salaries
Starting salary (trainee reporter) £12,000 - £15,000
Junior £15,000 - £24,000
Senior £22,000 - £39,000
Editor £50,000 - £85,000 on magazines/regional newspapers. National papers and large consumer magazines will be considerably more
Marketing (source: Marketing Week/Ball & Hoolahan Salary Survey 2012)
National UK average salaries
Graduate trainee £21,000
Digital marketing manager £37,000
Brand/product manager £36,000
Can I earn more as a freelancer?
Possibly. Here are the average UK design daily freelance rates (per 8-hour day) according to the Major Players Salary Survey 2012
Junior designer: £100
Design director: £275
NB: the figures for junior, senior and design director posts above have been updated as the previous figures were misquoted and relate only to integrated agency rates. Apologies for the confusion
How does this compare around the world?
Source: 2011 Colorflot design salary guide
Current average graphic design hourly freelance rate in UK: £20
Current average graphic design hourly freelance rate in the US: $30 (£19)
Current average graphic design hourly frelance rate in India: R295 (£3.40)
Current average graphic design hourly freelance rate in Germany: €24 (£20)
Current average graphic design hourly freelance rate in Australia: A$29 (£19)
Current average graphic design hourly freelance rate in Canada: C$30 (£19)
What's the most I could earn?
The Kingston Smith top 30 pulls out the highest earning directors in each firm. Top of the list is Checkland Kindleysides where one (unidentified) director earned £1,745,000 in the year ending April 2011. There were high earners too at Futurebrand, where someone earned £584,000 in 2011, Design Bridge (highest director pay £483,000) and The Partners (highest director pay £380,000). Someone at Wolff Olins earned £302,000 while the most Lambie-Nairn paid one of its directors was £295,000.
What is my time worth/What should we charge?
If you are working in a design studio, your time will be charged out to clients at an hourly or daily rate. The Design Business Association worked out average hourly charge-out rates for UK design businesses in various sectors in its 2012 DBA Charge Out Rates and Salary Review (supported by co.efficient). Because different roles command different rates, the DBA survey is based on an average across four job titles – Principal / proprietor; Account / Client handler; Senior Designer; Mac operator. Here are the figures:
Corporate identity/Branding: £103
Exhibitions stands/Displays: £105
Retail/Interior/Experiential Design: £105
Point of Sale: £95
How does that compare to advertising?
Does design undercharge for its services compared to ther creative industries? Unfortunately we were unable to obtain figures for UK ad agency charge-out rates. However, our coleagues at Econsultancy conduct a digital agency rate card survey. So, for 2011 here are the UK average daily charge-out rates for digital agencies by job title
Senior designer/creative £744
Group acount director £746
Midweight designer £611
Junior designer/creative £494
Which gives an average across all job titles of £648. Assume a 7-hour day and that is an average of £92.50 an hour, so many design studios appear to be charging more for their time that digital ad agencies.
What does a Mad Man (or Woman) cost?
Although we had no data for UK ad agency charge-out rates, the 4A's in the US did share data with us from their 2011 Billing Rate Survey.
There is a great disparity in the US between the rates charged by large and small ad agencies. A Chief Creative Director in an agency with 50 or fewer employees bills, on average, $277 an hour for their time to clients. For an agency with over 500 employees, that figure goes up to $776 an hour.
Agencies in New York charge the most. Average hourly billing rates for a mid-range New York agency in 2011 were:
Chief creative director: $590
Creative director: $326
Art director: $141
Assistant art director: $90
Do bigger agencies charge more in the UK?
We have no figures for ad agencies in general but digital agencies certainly do. The Econsultancy digital agency rate card survey 2011 compared charge-out rates to the size of an agency by turnover
Do London agencies charge more?
Again, our source is the Econsultancy digital agency rate card survey 2011, which compares digital agency charge-out rates by region
Non South East £777
Hopefully, all that has proved useful, or at least interesting. There's plenty more, plus articles on setting up a studio, how to tell if you are in financial trouble, day-rates versus project fees and much more in our January issue, details below.
All graphics shown here were created for CR's January issue by Mark McLure and Caroline Leprovost of the Guardian Digital Agency
CR in Print
The January issue of Creative Review is all about the Money - well, almost. What do you earn? Is everyone else getting more? Do you charge enough for your work? How much would it cost to set up on your own? Is there a better way of getting paid? These and many more questions are addressed in January's CR.
But if money's not your thing, there's plenty more in the issue: interviews with photographer Alexander James, designer Mirko Borsche and Professor Neville Brody. Plus, Rick Poynor on Anarchy magazine, the influence of the atomic age on comic books, Paul Belford's art direction column, Daniel Benneworth-Gray's This Designer's Life column and Gordon Comstock on the collected memos, letters and assorted writings of legendary adman David Ogilvy.
Please note, CR now has a limited presence on the newsstand at WH Smith high street stores (although it can still be found in WH Smith travel branches at train stations and airports). If you cannot find a copy of CR in your town, your WH Smith store or a local independent newsagent can order it for you. You can search for your nearest stockist here. Alternatively, call us on 020 7970 4878 to buy a copy direct from us. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 970 4878 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subscribe to CR for a year here and save yourself almost 30% on the printed magazine.
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Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month.
I'm a Senior Designer with years of experience in disciplines across brand, illustration, graphic design, typography and web.
I work in the far north of England.
I earn less than 30K per annum.
Should I kick up a fuss? What's the situation specifically outside of London in terms of salary?
The 2011 Design Week Survey put senior designers outside London on between £30,000 and £34,000 depending on the sector they worked in. The 2010 average was £32,143. It might be worth having a word with a friendly recruitment consultant to see if you are well below where you should be
I live in New York and I can tell you those figures from Paylandia are false. The thought of a designer with [a mere] 3–5 years experience would earn $95,800 is laughable. That's closer to what an Art Director in charge of 10 staff would earn. I'd put the real average closer to $55,000, with an hourly freelance rate of $45 or so.
Much like in London, in New York there is a fair spread depending on industry and focus. For example, someone working in mobile and UX design for the pharmaceutical advertising industry is going to make much much more than someone doing layout for publishing.
Yes, those Paylandia figures do seem high. The AIGA/Aquent survey comes out at about $50,000 as an average for a print designer which seems closer to the mark you mention. I've added a note to that effect
Pfffft – who'd want to work there anyways?
Now I REALLY have the January blues.
£20 per hour freelance is about right but way too low in my opinion. Of course this is accurate because the design market is so fiercely competitive.
Surely the junior designer salary is for someone with at least a years experience? Myself and my friends I know from university are all junior level and on average earning £15000. Have we all been duped?
@Tara Same here, I was on £14K in a town an hour north of London but moved to Central London after 8 months experience to get the £22K. I think if I had stayed (had I even been able to) in my home town, I would still only be earning £16-18K.
To get paid at all upon graduation seems to be a bit of a luxury nowadays. I used to get offered no-pay or low-paid freelance work.
You have to love the craft of design to work in an agency and the environment you are working in. There are options for instance going freelance and working from the bottom and building a business yourself. You do not have to follow the same route all grads go and work for an agency, in fact you get more respect the freelance route.
The other option is to go digital and design for digital start-ups or work for a start up as a designer.
For any designer to have a good job and work in an agency that is respectable is a good thing.
@Mark A romantic idea, but as a graduate without experience (other than internships), I found I was mostly ripped-off as a freelancer. All of the start-up people I've met wanted to rip me off as well by not wanting to talk about money and not even offering a share in their start-up (which they should do if they want the work but can't afford it at the beginning). I don't consider myself a bad designer either, having worked for international household names for the last year. It's mostly to do with people being plain selfish, exploiting the vulnerable and wanting free work all the time (which we can't or shouldn't have to afford to do).
I think CR should do an article on the other side of the design industry: internships and free labour, and whether they're actually good for anyone.
In response to one or two of the comments above, I've quoted a few appropriate words from Michael Wolff.
"...don’t think a design company is where a designer should necessarily be, because if you’re interested in creativity and you are creative and you can see and you have got curiosity and you do appreciate things and you have got imagination, take it anywhere. Go and work in any company. Go and bring it to anyone who’ll listen to you.
"The design company is not the only place to be a designer. In fact it’s actually in some ways a rather constraining place to be a designer."
I agree with the comments above from Mark and David. I experienced pay that was way below average after leaving university as well. After being made redundant not long after, I decided to start my own business instead of searching for a new job and ending up in the same situation. There are plenty of routes for recent grads to take, you just need to be a bit creative.
Why is there such a discrepancy between the Major Players 2012 salary survey average for a Senior designer (£50,000) and the 2011 Design Week Survey for seniors outside of London (£30,000-£34,000)?
Surely there can't be a 20k difference between London and rest of UK?
I´m Communication Designer in a networking company with more than 5 years experience as graphic designer and web designer. Can somebody tell me how much I should earn per year?
The average wage for a junior designer is £22,000? Not in the North of England. I scoured Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham after graduating last year and the majority of salaries were between £12,000 and £14,000, with a few offering around £16,000. I'm almost certain everyone from my course working as a designer in the North is earning considerably less than £16,000, and just about all of them had to work unpaid for at least a couple of months first.
I can honestly say that there is more money to be earned in Australia. I moved out in 2010 and immediately increased my wage 3 fold.
I think there's a difference here between 'junior' designer and 'graduate' designer ie first job. The Major Players Survey gives a national average of £19,000 for a graduate designer in 'design and branding' and you would expect some regional variations around that figure.
That Major Players figure should have been £40,000. We've amended that now.
As MD of Figtree I often found it hard to get the best talent to take a full time job. People are much more connected to their own networks now (via Linkedin and Behance, etc) and tend to look more for the project (creative or strategic) opportunity than the draw of an agency's reputation.
The economic situation has also made it hard for agencies to commit to new people, especially at the senior end, in the battle to keep costs down. I sense that we rely less on agencies to provide job security than we did 5 years ago. The result is a positive one in my book, forcing creatives to be much more self sufficient (in a good way) and seek opportunities through their own networks. That why I set up openstudioclub.com to help freelance creatives find interesting space to work, share ideas and collaborate in a way that's still affordable.
Projects come and go, teams form and disband. The trick is to stay nimble and be plugged-in.
This is interesting, I wonder how how confident we can be about these figures, it seems the vast majority of people commenting here seem to think they are way too high, or is it that those raking it in keep quiet?
Some of those figures are inflated. Ive been a designer for 15 years and most I've ever earnt is £45k and that was at management level in the Midlands at a small agency.
Salaries are not only based on experience as we all know but also based on capablities and more result driven nowadays.
A good capable, experienced, diverse designer with solid print, web, packaging, pos and typography skills with a minimum of 5 years solid agency experience should be on £35k minimum in my opinion.
A very competitive industry now and salaries are reduced due to climate and good designers are being squeezed and under paid.
Interesting reading & interesting comments. If it makes all the fledgling designers feel happier - I started on £2,600 per annum (albeit 25years ago) but that was tiny even then. But my point is - if you love design, you'll do it anyway. You either are a designer or your not. And the more you put in, the more you will get out - both from a personal fulfilment level & financially. Would you really want to swap to a different form of occupation? If you are feeling unappreciated, maybe think outside the rut and be open to opportunities?
It is almost weird to see so many figures presented so plainly on the blog of UK leading graphic design magazine... A little information design would have been very welcome for such an article.
@ Shinji Pons
There's lots of 'information design' in the printed issue of the magazine. This blog post is intended merely as an accompaniment to the issue, listing some of the research that informs it. I you want a richer, more in-depth overview of this subject, it's in the magazine
I agree to a point with what you said – if you don't love design you probably shouldn't be a designer.
I don't agree that passion should ever have to compensate for being undervalued or underpaid, which is why this has been such useful coverage from CR: we can finally see how much we should be paid in relation to everyone else (or realise how lucky we are to be paid more than most).
I know I'll never be paid as much as most of my friends in other industries, but I'd hope I'm paid as much as my colleagues!
I'm out here in Dublin. Article is interesting.
From experience, I find it frustrating that terms such as junior, middle and senior are used in the industry to bully the valuation of what im worth considering i'm working on all digital, web, print, illustration and motion projects in house - the likes of which skills none of our senior staff have - or will have.
This isn't an attitude that I carry in work - but I have 3+ years experience and I'm earning only 23,000 euro. That's a significant reduction from your Sterling. Should I kick up a fuss or can I earn more? Does anyone have experience in Euros regarding middle-weight positions or what I should be earning?
@Beckoid I agree with Ed, 'passion' should NEVER compensate for financial rewards. If I wanted to just be passionate all day long, I'd stay at home and do my own projects and starve to death. It's 'passion' that has downgraded our industry, with people willing to do free or low-paid work for others (desperate graduates are excused for having to do this, I simply feel sorry for them). As creatives, we need to hold on to what is precious and useful to other people and get them to understand why we're an important part of their world, not just artists who serve no purpose but themselves.
I graduated from university last year and managed to get a job as an in-house graphic designer pretty much straight away on 15k a year (based in Manchester). The creative recruitment agency that found me the job said I was lucky to get a paid position straight out of university, as most companies expect a years experience.
I also charge £20 an hour for freelance work, which seems to be working out alright. The salaries stated in this article for junior designers are probably true for somebody with 1-2 years experience, working in a top agency in the middle of London.
The freelance pay rates seems a little on the low side, I'm a junior / mid animation designer & illustrator ( just over 2 years experience) based in Norwich. I charge £175 a day and am fully booked up until June 2013.
My first job as a Junior after graduating in 2010 was working for an agency in Norwich on £18k a year, which at the time I thought was pretty good for a graduate role.
London seems to be where the pay is bad, when I graduated everyone was all about London "you have to be in London" which is maybe why they can pay a pitance as they have the supply of students begging for a job. In small cities like Norwich have to pay alright to stop the students from running away, it certainly kept me away from London.
Having read all of this I have come to the conclusion that creatives cannot handle money matters on the whole. I would say that a strong armed Creative Workers Union, that has teeth and committed members, is much needed to set minimums of salary and rights/benefits. Some say it would destroy the industry and with ever smaller budgets the work would go elsewhere. Well quite frankly my response is that this is nonsense. It would highlight the massive wealth of talent that has been abused for generations in this country and really push forward the standard of work as well as more realistic compensation for the long (unpaid) hours and general insecurity of working in the various creative industries.
I have to agree with AB. I had to combine my design skills with my marketing skills to get a decent paying job in London as a Marketing Executive. It did teach me a lot and I don't regret it, but if you are only passionate about design then it is a struggle to find a good company with realistic working hours to pay you a decent salary.
I have now moved to Australia and I am setting up my own design agency, so hopefully now those marketing skills will come into use to market my own business.
I'm a Clothing Designer in N.Ireland. I have worked in London, S.Africa and now back home to Belfast. In about every position I feel that Designers have all been taken advantage of. In 2009 I asked for a salary increase to £30,000 and was told no way. So I resigned and started on my own. The same people kept me on as freelance on £25/hr. Not bad rate BUT then when they got a Junior in (for me to train up) they reduced my rates to £20/hr. It's been 4 years now and I have only asked now for my rates to be reviewed. I have received a great deal of grief over this, being compared to the 'full timer' salary. I would dearly love to be able to walk out on this lot but as you know if you want to pay the bills, your hands are tied. So many creatives get taken for mugs and there's absolutely NOTHING you can do. I wish I'd trained to be a vet!
In 1999 I worked as a freelance designer for a marketing agency in London. I was doing print at the time and had digital skills but no solid work experience to back it up. My rate was £14/hr. I came back to South Africa (where I'm from) on a holiday and had the opportunity to work as a digital designer for a leading on-line newspaper, where I picked up enough of a portfolio to impress my agents to give me a shot at digital. Back in London, now year 2000, I went from £14/hr to £20/hr by up-skilling and then eventually on to £25/hr - all while working for the same agency! The agency started making offers for me to go full time, but it meant a drop in salary by £12 000/year. It refused and stood my ground, they needed me and I was good! Then, my visa expired and I has to accept the "full timer" offer BUT, they then knew that I had few options, so they further reduced my salary by £21 000/year! At my peak in 2001, I had been earning £54 000/year as a digital freelancer, then reduced to £33 000/year as a full timer. Did I give it my all? - not as much as when I had been incentivised by freelance rates. Was I exploited? - yes, but then I was probably earning more than I should have anyway. It stuck it out for a full 2 years before I moved back to Cape Town and did my own thing.
I have recently returned from a year out in Australia, whilst living in Melbourne I advertised on a free site (gumtree) as a junior designer looking to expand my portfolio. Some people wanted something for nothing - understandable, you get these people everywhere...whilst others were shocked that I was charging $40 (£26) per hour of my time. I was snapped up at this price, as most juniors start from at least $60-75 (£40-50) ph freelancing, with most middleweight designers charging anything from $90-160ph (£60-100!) and there is a lot of work out there, you can get a lot of freelance work with very little effort. I am going back next year to live, the opportunities are out there, there is money to be made, the people are laid back and the beaches are beautiful. Up in Queensland you can expect a slightly smaller wage, but there is plenty of work!
Great article, although the UK / AUS salary comparisons are somewhat misleading as they've clearly been calculated using the exchange rate of the day; this is not how you compare salaries, unless you're going down-under short-term with the intention of stashing away as many dollars as possible to bring home to Blighty. For example: Solo designer A$57,000 (£37,000); if you work this comparison out by comparing Australian median incomes and cost of living, i.e. how far your salary will go in Australia, you get quite a different figure: A$57,000 is actually closer to the equivalent of £19,000 (about a third). When you also consider that, in somewhere like Melbourne, the rent for a decent apartment close to the city is around $A500.00p/w, those enticing salaries suddenly aren't looking so fantastic.
sounds right to be im Junior designer and been in this just over a year and i get what the article says
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