Money, Money, Money

It’s the subject no-one wants to talk about, but we’re going to try. The January issue of CR will have a major feature all about cold, hard, cash. And we’d like your help

It’s the subject no-one wants to talk about, but we’re going to try. The January issue of CR will have a major feature all about cold, hard, cash. And we’d like your help.

We want to know what topics you would like us to cover. Would, for example, you like us to explore that hardy perennial – how do you decide what to charge?

Would you like us to look at salaries and how they compare across regions and sectors?

What about comparing earnings around the world – what does a designer or art director earn in, say, India, compared to Brazil or the UK?

Or the highest/lowest paying jobs people have ever had?

What about working pro bono – when does it pay and how?

How about costs? One thing we were thinking of looking at are start-up costs for a studio – how much would you need to get going?

Or would you rather we were a bit more prurient? Which photographer has the highest day rate, for example? Or what was the most expensive commercial made in the last year?

We want to look at this subject from a variety of angles – from practical help to just being plain nosey.

Please let us know in the comments below what you’d like to see in the issue because, reluctant though we are to contradict esteemed songstress Jessie J, this time it IS about the money, money, money



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CR In print

In our November issue we look at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy in a major feature as it celebrates its 30th anniversary; examine the practice of and a new monograph on M/M (Paris); investigate GOV.UK, the first major project from the Government Digital Service; explore why Kraftwerk appeals so much to designers; and ponder the future of Instagram. Rick Poynor reviews the Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design; Jeremy Leslie takes in a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery dedicated to experimental magazine, Aspen; Mark Sinclair explores Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery show of work by the late graphic designer, Tony Arefin; while Daniel Benneworth-Gray writes about going freelance; and Michael Evamy looks at new telecommunications brand EE’s identity. Plus, subscribers also receive Monograph in which Tim Sumner of dips into Preston Polytechnic’s ephemera archive to pick out a selection of printed paper retail bags from the 70s and 80s.

The issue also doubles up as the Photography Annual 2012 – our showcase of the best images in commercial photography produced over the last year. The work selected is as strong as ever, with photographs by the likes of Tim Flach (whose image of a hairless chimp adorns the front cover of the issue, above); Nadav Kander (whose shot of actor Mark Rylance is our Photography Annual cover); Martin Usborne; Peter Lippmann; Giles Revell and more.

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  • Helen

    God yes! Cold hard facts please, on all of the above. It’s the one thing noone ever talks about so as a new starter you don’t know if you are ripping yourself off trying to get work, and far too many companies set a starting wage that is simply unlivable unless you have parents go are willing / can afford to support you til you’re 30+, it’s not that I mind working for love, it’s that my landlord wants paying in cash!

  • I’d like the article to cover value; how economic pressure has changed what clients expect from design agencies, how agencies have had to adapt to ensure they’re offering good value & how to prove it.

    Other topics such as increasingly cheap or free online services & how that affects how agencies operate, personally I think it’s been good for good business as it weeds out those that charged a lot for BS & paid little attention to good design.

  • Steve

    I’d very much like to echo the thoughts of Helen, a comparison of salaries would be great – and also a discussion on why wages are often so low – to the point where you need constant help from family for financial support. Considering we as an industry think it’s a skilled profession, I don’t think the salaries reflect this. It’s all well and good giving graduates low salaries and telling them it’s the experience that’s more important at this stage in their career, but I’m not seeing much improvement in wages as someone who is now 5/6 years out of university.

  • Ruth

    I think salaries are really important to talk about, as it’s male dominated industry its important agencies are transparent and discuss equal pay. It only benefits the agency to keep everyone quiet about what they earn, and allows them to pay low wages, which eventually eats away at peoples self esteem and confidence.

  • Tim

    More and more designers seem to be working Freelance, how much can you charge? Does this equate to less or more than working full time when you work out holiday, employer pension contributions etc. And how much does it cost to employ a freelancer is it more cost effective than a fulltime employee?

    On a different note where do people in the design industry sit in a table of pay compared to doctors, engineers, teachers, pilots and other interesting professions.

    Would also be interesting to here from some retired graphic designers. Can you afford to live as a pensioner if your a moderately successful designer? And at what age can you afford to retire.

    Generally some sort of guide on how to manage your whole career to be able to retire and have fun would be awesome.

  • I’m less interested in reading naming and shaming of highest earners etc. but clear and well researched averages of pay corresponding to company size and years experience would be helpful :) also for those who often consider going freelance or self-employed – what are the usual costs involved, how much does an accountant cost per year etc.

    I’d also love to see some kind of career salary graph/projection…

  • G

    I definitely think ‘salary’ – posters above have mentioned about having to receive financial help from family and how the industry is a skilled industry so how could it be that we’re generally on a low-to-average wage.

    It would be good to hear how the recessions have affected this, how budget cuts and clients taking work into their own hands due to the rise in popularity of Apple and Adobe software have completely devalued our industry.

    It would also be good to do a ‘blind test’ with students, in terms of what they actually expect to be paid, or earn as freelancers. I know from experience we’ve had a few interns over the years who have unrealistic ideas about their starting salaries and potential earnings.

    Other financial topics could be based around agency earnings – how much of the profit gained from the work that designers & creatives do actually makes it into their pockets? How much do directors and owners of businesses take as salary compared to their employees? How much money gets fed back into the business rather than the owners pockets? How well off financially are agencies? Two months of no work and they’re bust? Or have they had good financial foresight?

    And to second Tim, what is life like as a retired designer? And preferably retirees from outside of the M25 who weren’t/aren’t necessarily well known, those who worked at ‘everyday’ agencies.

    I think the start up costs for a studio would be interesting – years ago it would have run into absolute thousands, if you did it all legally, purchasing software and font licenses for each computer, buying the computer, updating software etc. etc. I wonder how much the actual real value has changed over the years, if at all.

  • Bip

    Include all those ideas mentioned,


    one on how big money changes/affects the artists that make it big in the art world.


  • Ed

    Every suggestion above is something I’d want to read. Please also make this a regular feature – this kind of thing needs to be talked about with some transparency as an industry more often than once a year.

  • K-S-T

    All of the things mentioned would be great. This might end up being the size of any Annual. On that note, great work on last months Photography Annual. Really enjoyed it. Covers great too!

  • I’d like to know if designers are moving away from the fees for service model and setting up deals that link money to success of their work? Are they engaging with clients in new ways – sharing the risks and rewards?

  • Pop

    I would like to know the difference between men and womens pay, as a woman i have alway known that my fellow designers who are men with the same experience are paid more than me. In one case i had asked for a payrise of £500 a year and was told no, i left the job and a male designer was taken on for 6k more than me, he has also only just graduated, i had 4 years experience.

  • Do it…all of the comments about money are of interest in all of creative industries. This would make a compelling read. A regular column about this would be a useful resource.

  • Where’s the money in making money?

    How much do the mints invest in designing forgery-proof banknotes? Who makes the stock for printing banknotes and how are new materials being used? (I’m thinking washproof Aussie notes, etc) How does the move to a single currency in Europe effect local money-printing jobs? Has chequebook design changed or been tackled creatively, PROPERLY creatively, in the last few decades? What about banking UI, or Credit Card design?

    You’d get a greater rate of interest from me from that kind of story than dull economics.

  • I’d love to know about comparison earnings around the world based on experience. I’m a graphic designer with 8 years experience – I started out in Sydney, now working in London, but often wonder if I’d be better off moving to New York, or even back home to OZ to earn more.

  • I’d like you to look at how the industry can help itself by having a clearer stance on pricing and changing the culture of discounting. We work mainly with photographers and there is huge pressure on dropping rates, almost for dropping rates sake. The advertising industry has long succumbed to the pressure of cutting rates by their clients, and have undercut each other for years, leading to a devaluation of many creative services by businesses that is proving to be very hard to reverse. Compare this with other sectors, (of which I have some but, admittedly less experience), such as TV production and even digital agencies, who don’t negotiate. If the client’s budget is less than the cost of the job, the client is told they can’t afford what they want and are asked to decide what to cut out. So the client is the one that has to compromise. We need to push for the appreciation of creative talent and the huge value that great creative and photography bring to a businesses marketing.

  • David

    Why do clients despise the idea that designers should make money, most of my customers now buy their own print, want native quark and Indesign files to make minor amends to artwork without paying authors amends fees. Is this a false economy? I believe it is as my customers expect me to have all the current software and hardware to ensure their work is produced quickly, efficiently and to the highest technical standards. Yet I can’t afford to purchase the kit to keep up with technological advancement as my margins are being eroded.

  • Andy

    A look at start up cost would be helpful, and along the same line, how this should tie in with how much you can charge for projects. I know I would find it interesting to see how some of the industry leaders make these sort of decisions!

  • DJ

    This business used to be called ‘commercial art’. I suggest we bring this term back, because whilst we are still considered to be the people who do the colouring in and drawing the pretty shapes, we will always be seen as an optional extra to bBritish Industry.

    Let’s not make this internal and about our salaries, let’s make it important and about how we get paid in the first place!!

    I’d like to contribute to the debate in whatever way I can.

  • Stef

    How can/should freelancers negotiate the best rates for themselves could be good too. Especially because so many agencies have hiring freezes and so are relying on freelancers.

  • efmarch

    Very interesting and incredibly important topic! Differences in fees between regions and countries would be good to know, how is the design profession viewed and valued differently depending on location and why?
    How can designers become more business savvy and understand how to be profitable?

  • Hard facts are MOST desirable! I’d like to know:
    – how do you decide what to charge?
    – salaries and how they compare across regions and sectors.
    – comparing earnings around the world.
    – start-up costs for a studio, how much would you need to get going?

  • Danny

    I would be fascinated to find out about many of the points mentioned above.

    As relatively recent graduate, the going rate for a Junior seems to be in the region of £18-20k p/a. I wonder if this low rate of pay is putting off talented youngsters who turn to more academic degrees for better financial reward. Especially when you take into account the unpaid post-university placement phase which has become the norm.

    I find I can just about get by on such a basic salary, particularly considering over 1/5th of my pay goes towards commuting costs. I honestly feel the junior-mid positions in the industry needs a serious salary bump.

    I also wondered what actually constitutes as over time in the design industry. As agencies strive to meet deadlines and budget constraints, I can’t help but feel being forced to work late without any extra pay is a demand not many other industries would encourage. I love design, but I’ve come to realise that it is not a profession that cannot offer you a life of luxury. Far from it in fact.

  • NIC

    Something about how people manage to do work they are proud of for a tiny budget, ie taking on jobs that you might not be that keen to but the economy is tight and you need to make money, so you take them, how can you turn it into a positive and make that work something to be proud of. Without doing it all for free to add that value you think the job deserves.

  • RR

    Such important topic. Time to subscribe to the magazine. 😉
    Been living in Shanghai for over one year now & trying my best to adapt to low Asian freelance salaries.

  • A

    Im a broke ass graduate and FYI £400 a month to work in London is taking the piss!!!!!!!

  • Lillian

    I would really like to know how salaries compare across the globe, I have just moved to Sydney from the UK so it would be interesting to know what to expect.

    I would also be curious to know how many hours over the ‘average’ day people worked and what the incentives were. I’ve recently finished at a company that made you sign an opt out clause stating that you were happy to work over 37.5 hours, except in my instance we never received overtime, holiday in Lou or any bonuses for the extra work we put in. Some weeks I could work up to 60hr+ and only get paid my standard annual wage. Is this the norm? I would be intrigued. My boss lives in the past and rarely gives pay rises they also make students work for free and tell them that they should be grateful for the opportunity.

    What is the general freelancing hourly wage and is it fair to ask for a percentage up front? I’ve worked with people who have refused to pay, is there anything people can do to prevent this from happening as much.

  • I think another useful element to the debate is to consider how many different income streams design companies currently have and to look at different ways to expand these. Through better use of IP, licensing, profit share and so on.

    This is a great opportunity to look at what the industry is doing now, comparing it to practice in other countries, but also differing revenue models that earn money for similar creative companies in this country.

    Design should not just be a fee plus structure but an opportunity to ‘invest’ in the client’s (and your) future.

  • NS*

    I think this has the potential to be a fantastic issue. As someone who is strongly considering setting up a small studio this would serve as a invaluable resource of the pro/cons of not only doing so but also how it compares with working for someone. Whilst the permutations are vast and increased further still to varying extents depending on the individual an overview would be great.

    Ideally CR would include all the well considered points/ideas posted above but as someone has already stated it would be a fairly substantial issue. That said there are a number of recurring themes which are clearly important to many which should definitely be addressed.

    Personally I’m more interested in things such as start up costs/any hidden costs, salaries across countries, sectors, age, experience, industry, what to charge etc. Although the odd nosey snippet of most expensive this or cheapest that are always interesting! I think you put it pretty well yourselves with “We want to look at this subject from a variety of angles – from practical help to just being plain nosey.”

    I look forward to reading it.

  • I fully agree with Lillian (as well as many of the points above). I’m freelance, so I can charge what I like and if I choose to work late it’s usually because I’m getting paid accordingly, or am planning time off later in the week.

    However, almost everyone I know working for a salary in the design industry works incredibly long hours most days – turning what often is a ‘just OK’ salary to a pathetic hourly rate. That’s before mentioning the impact that kind of working pattern has on health, family and relationships and how long you can keep that pace up.

    I’d say why does it happen, but we all know that; why would agencies pay for enough staff to cover the workload when they get overtime free, eh? But why do so many people put up with it? And what can we do about it?

  • Ed Wright

    Later life/retirement is an issue that worries me. The creative industries seem to have very little interest in pensions, security, etc. The dream of spending my 50s/60s sitting back on my Eames lounger, drinking fine scotch, designing the odd book jacket are seeming less and less likely.

  • Rob

    I would be interested in finding out about equity. For example, how many Creative Directors have a financial stake in a company, is this common practice in large organisations? What’s the balance between having a percentage to salary and how is this negotiated.

    Apart from that, all of the above!

  • We have been running our studio a little over a year now, we set up immediately after graduating from uni.

    The value of what we have learned over the past year far out-weighs the monetary value of the work we have produced.

    That said, looking to the future, we are finding it difficult to find and to secure jobs that are profitable to work on or that are rewarding in a design sense. This could be put down in part to our inexperience, but it also has a lot to do with design not being appreciated by small to medium sized businesses.

    It’s important for us to maintain the highest standard of design that we can produce, however we often have to offer our services for less than they are worth. (We just can’t bring ourselves to send out shoddy work.)

    We would like to see a discussion about the value of branding and design and what is a fair price to charge for these services.

  • james

    To all those asking about salaries/rates, look no further…

  • I’d like to know about start up costs for a studio.

  • Hi Sean cooper,


    you make a very valuable point and having been in the design industry for 2o + years running my own business… it is competitive…know your market sector… they can teach you design at UNI however business is something you learn through experience… I would say you have hit on a very interesting subject and you are asking the right sort of questions…

    there are always going to be variations in the wage/salary market however I would say know your own worth and also one has to understand that there is a cost for these type of services its educating people to understand why it give there business’ the edge on professionalism in such a market its perfect…

    Why sometimes its worth employing a business mentor/coach

    Klara Goldy

  • Ed Wright, I’d like to hear about pensions too. When the deal isn’t as good as one you’d get from an employer with their contributions added, it’s easy to ignore, especially when contributing would mean taking a fairly large chunk out of your earnings. Then you hear about pension companies going under and people losing everything they put in and wonder whether it’s even worth it – I think I’d be fairly murderous if I’d struggled to contribute and that happened. But then we should have one, shouldn’t we? Argh.

  • I’d like to know the financial details, advantages and disadvantages of working for a company or working for yourself. Go sole trader or limited company.

    What are the costs involved in studio start-ups and what is out there that can save you money or even give you money, such as grants and investments. Are there any cost saving “tricks”.

  • Nichola

    I completely agree with Danny, I am a junior designer too, and earning much less than 18k (6k in fact and more than half of that goes on commuting costs) I am aware of needing industry experience so I am dealing with the low wage, however I can definitely see how designers entering the industry like myself can find this very off putting, especially knowing jobs that don’t require a degree such as a sales assistant that could potentially earn more.

    I work late hours as a freelancer trying to earn extra cash, however sometimes find myself questioning if I could actually make a living out of doing this. It is quite off putting. I love design too, and before could not see myself in any other career, however if I could earn more money doing a career in something else, I definitely would not hesitate to take it.

    Additionally, I would also like the article to cover value, how to ensure the client is getting what they pay for from a freelance designer and agency, and cover the increasingly high number of spec work that is available through online services, and how this is effecting what clients expect from designers.

  • Mandy

    It would be good to see how the return on investment is calculated – taking into account all of the costs in setting up and running a studio, how is this used to calculate a daily or hourly rate? And what’s the standard agency ‘mark up’? What kind of return and/or profit should a small studio expect to see?

  • How about a media workers co-operative?

    As in not just Commercial Communication Designers (business graphics) but a business couch, copywriter, sub-editor, photographer, printers, reporters?

    What is the best way to lay out those contracts?

    With different people working on different jobs as required?

    A business mentor or couch is always good for up-selling at the design brief stage apparently…

    Although other members don’t have to be in the country, right?