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In 2009, the communication design profession experienced the
same devastating disruption that hit the economy as a whole.
Designers were certainly among the more than eight million
Americans to lose their jobs, and that, in turn, has influenced
both the demand for labor and compensation patterns. However, by
all indications, this downturn in employment for the design
profession has been more selective than sweeping.
From anecdotal evidence and industry data, corporate design
departments and advertising agencies seem to have suffered the most
employment losses. For designers working on a freelance basis,
there have been two equally relevant stories: Independent
contractors found that either they were in demand because of their
ability to work on a more flexible basis—making them cheaper than
fulltime employees—or there has not been enough work to sustain
them in a stagnant economy. For recent graduates, the
opportunities, where available, were often low-paying or unpaid
internships, without benefits.
At the same time, the broader discussions about adaptive
strategies for corporations determined to grow their way out of
this current market slump often hinged on innovation, design and
design thinking. Hence, demand for design was not eliminated, and
many independent studios remained busy. Those studios were not
necessarily hiring, but they were very busy picking up newly
outsourced work from corporate departments and other clients
seeking competitive differentiation for their products.
The current AIGA|Aquent
Survey of Design Salaries reveals the implications of these
business conditions on individual designers. All professional and
associate-level AIGA members will receive a print version of the
survey results, while a limited version will be available to
everyone. Specifically for students and emerging designers we've
included a series of essays offering advice on what skills will be
most useful in this changing economy.
In the past year, similar to other sectors of the economy, there
has been little real increase in the median compensation for
designers. Median compensation increased around three percent for a
number of categories and up to nine percent for others; while these
increases were not large, the consumer price index actually
declined during that period, increasing designers' purchasing power
A number of positions increased faster than most: entry-level
designers, web designers, print production managers. Principals
also experienced a relatively larger increase.
This finding is consistent with what we have heard from design
studio heads: They are working harder, but margins are smaller.
Hence, the productivity gains that individual employees are
contributing are not being rewarded because clients (internal or
external) may not be paying for those gains.
The way for individual designers to increase their value and
compensation is through consistent training and professional
development that allows them to move up in the range of
responsibilities they assume.
The AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries features
advice from 10
successful designers and educators on how designers can develop
their skills, competencies and value as we all face the churning
dynamics of an economy adjusting to a new future. It
also describes the attributes that are likely to be most
critical for designers in the coming years based on AIGA and
Adobe's research into “Defining the Designer of
The good news is that the Design Leaders Confidence Index
for the first quarter of 2010 reflects the strongest confidence yet
in an economic recovery. As the economy regains momentum, we hope
these resources will benefit members and the design profession at
Richard Grefé is the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. While guiding all of AIGA’s activities, his most significant contributions are in strategy, formulating new initiatives to enhance the competitive success of designers
and advocating the value of design to business, government and the public.
AIGA’s chapters allow our members to form powerful social and
professional bonds through conferences, competitions, lectures and
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA’s 15-member board is elected by the entire professional membership
and plays a crucial role in determining the mission of AIGA.
Section: About AIGA -
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Amanda T. Pritchard
Member since 2015
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