UK design industry shows signs of recovery, the 2013 Design Industry Voices Report suggests

The UK digital and design agencies are gradually recovering from the economic turmoil of the recent years as the staff gets pay rises and financial bonuses. Fewer employees have voiced their intention to change job (53.7% vs. 59% in 2012), which also signals that the climate within the industry shows signs of improvement.

These findings have been revealed by Fairley & Associates, Gabriele Skelton and On Pointe Marketing in their latest annual “Design Industry Voices” report that analyses the work of the British digital and design agencies from an insider’s point of view. The study focuses on the feedback from owners, executives, managers, employees in non-managerial roles, permanent staff and freelancers who have shared their opinion on client-agency relations, their personal perception of the in-house financial climate, professional development within their company, and other factors.

The survey that reached 576 respondents (of 3792 invited to participate) was carried out online between October 9-21, 2013. The participants were asked whether there was a free pitching practice in their agencies, if they felt their work was valued highly enough, if the bonuses and salaries increased, and if they had internal trainings over the past year. Here are key findings of the survey, as follows:

1. Clients still expect more free work or more paid work for less money.

The respondents share that clients of their agencies want more work for less money (85.6%) and ask for free pitches (72.6%). Furthermore, prospective clients get more free work than existing ones (49.3% vs. 36.2%). Yet 35.1% of the respondents agree that agencies tend to focus more on maintaining long-standing relationships with their existing clients rather than building new business. 44.6% of respondents admit that clients prefer integrated agencies; 79.6% agree that client budgets in 2013 reduced.

2. Over a half of design staff wants to change job; agencies hire more freelancers.

53.7% of the respondents confess they are thinking about changing their job (still, it’s 5.3% less than in 2012). More than two thirds of the respondents (68.1%) share that agencies are hiring more freelancers, about two fifths (42.5%) say that agencies are using more unpaid interns. A third (33.9%) of the respondents are freelancers. 58.6% of the respondents believe that agencies are “employing fewer permanent employees, ” compared with 61.4% in 2012.

Employees started to be more “digitally open” about their feeling toward work. Today, nearly two fifths (38.3%) write their personal impressions about work on social media platforms, and this is 20% more compared with 2009 (18.8% posted their thoughts online then). Last year, 34.6% of staff used social media to express their thoughts.

Over a third of respondents (34.8%) have been with their agency for less than a year, which may come as a result of their last year’s intention to change job.

3. Pay rises and bonuses.

While clients pay less and budgets reduce, the staff in agencies tend to get more money than before on average, through pay rises and bonuses.

Over two fifths of the respondents (42.4%) said they received a pay rise in the last year, and 63.4%  got it in the last two years, versus 27.7% who hadn’t received any pay rise in more than two years. 73.3% of the respondents reported that the pay rise was over 3% last year, and for 10% of them the rise was more than 10%. Over a quarter of surveyed professionals (27.7%) said that they received a bonus in the last year.

4. Fellowships and internship are less valued than working your way up

Respondents of all roles in the agencies —be it management, digital or strategy—believe that working your way up from a junior position is the best form of professional training. This opinion is true mostly for account management (80.8%) and strategy (32.5%) employees. Two fifths of the respondents (40.5%) don’t rate highly their agency’s contribution to their professional development. Formal training (a relevant degree or training course) is believed to be the most useful in design (47.3%) and digital (38.6%), with just 15.3% thinking that this form of professional development is valuable for account managers.

Just 4% of the respondents believe that fellowships and internships will help employees succeed in their career. There has been a perceived increase in the use of unpaid interns (42.5% of respondents see it), but these employees are hired as cheap labour rather than young talents to be developed further.

The majority of the respondent believe that practical experience in marketing or advertising is valued more than theoretical knowledge gained during the related courses.

“Working your way up is the best way to build a career in the industry, especially if you are in account management or strategy. Agency leaders should note that over 40% of respondents don’t rate their agencies highly for supporting their professional development. It’s become a freelance world over the last five years but there are hints that the pace of change is slowing as fewer people intend to change jobs in the coming year,” commented Karina Beasley, co-author and MD of Gabriele Skelton.

Find the report here for a detailed insight into the study. View the infographics below for a visual interpretation of the findings.


26.5% of the survey participants work in managerial roles (26.5%), 29.2% define their professional functions as “other”; 51.4% of the surveyed are designers. Most of the respondents are permanent employees (63.6%), and 35.6% said that they had been working with their employers for up to one year. The gender differentiation is 56.5% male versus 43.5% female.