British designers are 'still overworked but better paid'

The annual Design Industry Voices report for 2013 has been released, and it looks like last year saw some positive changes from 2012. While clients continue to request free pitches and ask us to do more work for less money, many of us have received pay rises in the last two years (63.4% according to the report), and pay rises received in 2013 outstripped inflation, suggesting that the industry could be on the mend. 

The report does highlight the reputation of internships, though, with just fraction of respondents touting internships as a good way to train in the design industry. Is the appeal of cheap labour for clients damaging the quality and value of interning?

The Design Industry Voices 2013 report is based on an October online survey carried out by Rachel Fairley and Donovan Lambert of Fairley & Associates, Professor Stephen Platt from the University of Edinburgh, digital recruitment agency Gabriel Skelton and On Pointe Marketing.

Half of the survey's 576 respondents are designers while the other half come from varying roles within the industry including strategists and account management. Of those surveyed, 63.6% are permanent employees at varying stages in their careers, while 34.5% are freelancers or temporary employees and 2.3% are currently not working.

Clients want more, more, more

When asked about how they feel about clients the top three complaints remain the same as 2012. A total of 72.6% said that clients expect more work in pitches for free, and what's worse is that the pitch processes are longer according to more than half of respondents.

Therefore, nine out of ten of us are feeling like clients are expecting more work for less money, and almost 80% think client budgets have been cut.

"As we emerge from the recession there appears to be a more positive attitude towards projects and work going ahead," said one respondent. "However, obtaining reasonable budgets remains a challenge."

"I strongly feel that more agencies should say no to free creative pitching and that an industry wide campaign should be launched against free creative pitching," said another.

A freelance world

While freelance continues to be a popular career choice in the industry, 2013's report reveals that slightly less people intend to change jobs in 2014, though the number is still more than half (down from 59% to 53.8%).

Last year, the number of respondents who believed that agencies are employing fewer permanent employees rose by more than 10%, reflecting a disappointing trend that had been happening across much of Britain. In 2013, however, there has been slight a drop in that perception, down from 61.4% to 58.6%. Despite this, around two thirds of respondents said that agencies are still using more freelancers.

"It's a freelance world," a respondent said, claiming to be "amazed" by low staff numbers in agencies.

The reputation of internships

When it comes to training, the report reveals that working your way up from a junior role is believed to be the best form of training in fields such as design, digital, strategy and account management, though just over 40% of respondents said their agency isn't very supportive of personal development, making this process difficult.

In the fields of design and digital, a relevant degree or training course is also considered valuable preparation, contrasting heavily with the perception of the value of internships.

Less than 4% of respondents think internships are the best preparation for work in the industry, despite 42.5% of respondents believing that the use of unpaid interns is increasing. This suggests that the quality of internships is suffering. Perhaps those in the industry perceive internships as a way for clients to take advantage of cheap labour rather than a valuable method of gaining experience for the interns themselves.

Overall, while morale in the industry appears to be low based on this report, thanks to clients who want more for less, the increase in pay rises (some of those significant ones, too), and the decrease in potential job swappers suggests it's not all negative. If salaries and job satisfaction continue in the same direction in 2014, perhaps next year's survey will be a more positive one.

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