UK designers: white, (mostly) male, 38 and multiplying

The Design Council has published its latest survey of the UK design industry. Numbers of designers have grown nearly a third since 2005, are 60% male, 93% white and most likely to be 38 years old

The Design Council has published its latest survey of the UK design industry. Numbers of designers have grown nearly a third since 2005, are 60% male, 93% white and most likely to be 38 years old.

The Design Council estimates that there are now 232,000 designers employed in the UK. Astonishingly, this is up 29% on 2005, the date of the last survey. The number of freelancers is up nearly a third and now represents 65,900 individuals. 82,500 designers work in consultanices and 83,600 work in-house.

There are now 10,800 UK design consultancies (a decrease of 13% compared to 2005).

In terms of discipline, communications design dominates, with 62% of all designers working in that area. Only 11% of designers work in product and industrial design, which is still coonsiderably more than fashion and textiles’ 2%.

Geographically, London and the south-east dominate – 40% of UK design businesses are located there. Next comes the rather unspecific ‘east’ at 10%, west midlands at 8% and Yorkshire & Humber, north west, south west and Scotland all at 7%.

The financial figures reveal just how small most design businesses are in the UK. An astonishing 49% of all UK design businesses are described by the Design Council as having ‘a fee income/budget of less than £50k’ per year. A further 24% earn between £50k and £100k – so that’s 73% earning under £100k a year. Only 3% earn £1 million or more.

And design studios are small in terms of numbers too. Almost 90% have 10 or fewer designers. 70% employ between one and four designers. Businesses are also quite young – 37% have been going three years or less. 60% six years or less.

Demographically, designers are 60% male, 93% white and, on average, 38 years old. The survey compares these figures to architects, software professionals and ‘artists & literary professionals’. In gender terms, design doesn’t come off badly – 84% of architects and 86% of software professionals are male. Ethnically it is worse though – 11% or architects are from an ethnic minority, 16% or software professionals and 9% of ‘artists & literary professionals’. However, according to the last UK census (2001) the country is 92% white, so design is only slightly off the average.

Fears of the recession decimating the industry do not seem to have materialised. A third recruited at least one designer last year and just over half experienced either no change or increases in income.

In terms of where the work is coming from, just under half of UK design businesses do some work within the public sector, which, on the surface, rather goes against the oft-heard accusation that designers have overwhelmingly become tools of consumerism. However, this figure only tells us that they do some work in that sector, it doesn’t tell us what proportion of their overall work it represents.

Only 7% do work for clients outside the UK but 69% claim they are facing increased competition from overseas.

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