From nail­ing salary ne­go­ti­a­tions with a new em­ployer to learn­ing skills that will sell, here’s how to in­crease your slice of the pie

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From nail­ing salary ne­go­ti­a­tions with a new em­ployer to learn­ing skills that sell, here’s how to in­crease your slice of the pie as a de­signer

The de­sign in­dus­try is in good health at the mo­ment. In the UK, the cre­ative sec­tor is cur­rently worth £71 bil­lion – and it em­ploys an as­ton­ish­ing one in 12 mem­bers of the UK’s work­force. “The mar­ket is buoy­ant right now,” says Adrem Group’s Nikky Lyle, who spe­cialises in plac­ing graphic de­sign­ers and vi­su­alis­ers. “Lots of com­pa­nies are cry­ing out for good peo­ple. It’s a can­di­date-led mar­ket at the mo­ment. Salaries have shot up and the best peo­ple get snapped up very quickly.”

“We’re in a growth in­dus­try,” agrees Be Kaler, di­rec­tor and co-founder of dig­i­tal re­cruit­ment spe­cial­ists Fu­ture­heads, who says that the re­cent climb out of re­ces­sion has re­sulted in an em­ploy­ment boom. “There are many more op­por­tu­ni­ties than there were five years ago. A lot of peo­ple are com­ing to us want­ing to earn more and the mar­ket will af­ford that at the mo­ment. There are more jobs than there are good peo­ple, and em­ploy­ers gen­uinely have an ex­pec­ta­tion that they may need to pay a bit more – but you do need to be able to jus­tify why.”

The Ma­jor Play­ers Salary Sur­vey 2015 found that salaries have in­creased by be­tween 5 per cent and 10 per cent across most cre­ative dis­ci­plines. The ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents work in in­te­grated agen­cies – 27 per cent were found to have re­ceived a pay rise of more than 10 per cent in the last year, with more pay in­creases hap­pen­ing in­ter­nally than through ex­ter­nal job moves. How­ever, over a third (38.6 per cent) of those sur­veyed were look­ing to change jobs within the next year, with 64.9 per cent cit­ing bet­ter fi­nan­cial re­mu­ner­a­tion as a mo­ti­va­tion.

There is some less en­cour­ag­ing news when it comes to the gen­der pay gap, how­ever. The De­sign Week Salary Sur­vey 2015 re­vealed a gen­der pay gap of 17 per cent in the de­sign in­dus­try. In com­par­i­son, data from the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics places the UK’s over­all gen­der pay gap at 9.4 per cent. The De­sign Week sur­vey found that male cre­atives are earn­ing £35,809 on av­er­age, while fe­males in equiv­a­lent roles are get­ting £30,733. Over­all, the av­er­age de­signer in the UK earns £33,443, ac­cord­ing

to the De­sign Week sur­vey. Lon­don salaries con­tinue to out­strip the rest of the UK at an av­er­age of £36,791, fol­lowed by £32,795 in the rest of the South East, £30,599 in the East Mid­lands and £29,643 in Scot­land. The low­est-paid jobs are in North­ern Ire­land, where the av­er­age de­signer’s salary is £21,818.

“Lon­don is still the hub, but Manch­ester is some­where to watch,” says Nikky Lyle. “The BBC has moved there, the gov­ern­ment is in­vest­ing money and there are some great stu­dios there that are beat­ing Lon­don agen­cies to awards.” De­sign­ers in Manch­ester earn £27,279 on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to De­sign Week. “The cost of liv­ing is much cheaper, but it’s the same qual­ity of work and you can still work with Lon­don-based clients.”

“We’ve had lots of open­ings though in Manch­ester and we have clients open­ing of­fices there as well,” she con­tin­ues. “We’ve just had an agency from Manch­ester here in Lon­don in­ter­view­ing peo­ple and other clients from Manch­ester have ap­proached us want­ing to meet peo­ple.”

De­sign­ers are earn­ing more out­side the UK than within it. The De­sign Week re­search puts the av­er­age over­seas salary at £41,324, although it is of course worth not­ing that this will vary greatly be­tween dif­fer­ent cities and coun­tries across the world. So, where might you con­sider look­ing? “Com­pa­nies in San Fran­cisco are keen to hire Lon­don staff,” says Be Kaler. “And I went out to Sin­ga­pore ear­lier this year and was sur­prised by how many Lon­don dig­i­tal agen­cies have got satel­lite of­fices there now. If you set up in Sin­ga­pore, you can ser­vice 18 other busi­ness dis­tricts within a two-hour flight zone.”


Free­lance de­sign­ers ap­pear to be earn­ing more than em­ploy­ees, with av­er­age salaries of £34,659, although it’s im­por­tant to take into ac­count the ex­tra costs as­so­ci­ated with free­lanc­ing. De­sign­ers work­ing for con­sul­tan­cies are earn­ing an av­er­age of £33,680, while de­sign­ers work­ing


in-house re­ceive the low­est av­er­age salaries at £31,587. Be Kaler says client-side op­por­tu­ni­ties have in­creased, though: “Our agency/client split used to be 75/25 and it’s prob­a­bly 50–60 per cent in favour of client-side now.”

While em­ploy­ers are keen to hire new staff, Lyle ob­serves that they are be­ing more cau­tious in their se­lec­tions. “They want to hire peo­ple that are keen to de­velop and push them­selves. The main thing they want is for de­sign­ers to be as cre­ative as pos­si­ble.” Lyle notes that client-fac­ing skills are al­ways a plus, while, on the dig­i­tal side, the Ma­jor Play­ers sur­vey re­vealed that the most sought-af­ter can­di­dates are dig­i­tal de­sign­ers with fron­tend de­vel­op­ment knowl­edge. Speak­ing more gen­er­ally, Be Kaler rec­om­mends im­prov­ing breadth rather than sim­ply be­com­ing a spe­cial­ist in one area.

In the USA, The Cre­ative Group’s 2015 Salary Guide pre­dicts a 3.5 per cent rise for cre­ative salaries over the next year. “The job cat­e­gory with the big­gest pay jump is the in­ter­ac­tive field, with a 4.4 per cent av­er­age rise,” says Diane Domeyer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Cre­ative Group. “A num­ber of dig­i­tal po­si­tions are ex­pected to ex­ceed this fig­ure.” For ex­am­ple, mo­bile de­sign­ers can ex­pect start­ing salaries to in­crease by 6.8 per cent to the range of $71,000 to $109,500.

“Gain­ing dig­i­tal and mo­bile skills will in­crease your mar­ketabil­ity and open doors to new op­por­tu­ni­ties, no mat­ter what your spe­cialty,” ad­vises Domeyer. “Even if you are ap­ply­ing for po­si­tions that don’t re­quire these skills, ac­quir­ing them can give you an edge in to­day’s com­pet­i­tive job mar­ket.” Salary gains for more tra­di­tional roles, such as graphic de­sign­ers, will be con­sid­er­ably less, but these pro­fes­sion­als can still ex­pect an av­er­age in­crease of be­tween 3 and 3.2 per cent in 2015.

What sorts of em­ploy­ers are pay­ing the best salaries? “Try look­ing for jobs in cor­po­rate, tech, start-ups and char­i­ties,” sug­gests Fu­ture­heads’ Be Kaler. “Look for well-funded start-ups that have gone through a round of fund­ing, which usu­ally comes with a timeline for de­liv­ery. They may be up against the wall as it will stall ev­ery­thing if they don’t have the re­sources. They may also be will­ing to pay a bit more be­cause it’s harder to at­tract staff with­out an es­tab­lished brand – or an HR or IT depart­ment.”

Start-ups of­ten seek a broader skillset be­cause they don’t have a raft of es­tab­lished teams and de­part­ments to call on. “They also un­der­stand that some­one leav­ing an es­tab­lished agency or cor­po­ra­tion, they’re go­ing to be walk­ing away from more than just a salary but are re­lin­quish­ing se­cu­rity, a pen­sion and an es­tab­lished ca­reer path.”

At the other end of the scale, big-named brands are re­al­is­ing that they can’t at­tract can­di­dates on name alone, Kaler re­veals. “It used to be that the sex­ier the brand, the less you needed to pay. Peo­ple are more dis­cern­ing and brands that take that ap­proach can lose out.” It’s a sim­i­lar story with char­i­ties, she adds. “To at­tract the right staff, they are hav­ing to break their pay scales.”


Just don’t make the mis­take of look­ing solely at the num­bers. “Lots of peo­ple take a job purely based on


salary,” says Kaler. “Think of the 10 things that are most im­por­tant to you. These will be dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­body and they might in­clude things like the lo­ca­tion, pay, type of work, style of busi­ness, com­pany cul­ture and work­ing hours. Look at all of that holis­ti­cally and take the money out of the equa­tion un­til last,” she ad­vises. “Peo­ple can make the mis­take of choos­ing one job over another just be­cause it pays £2,000 more. An ex­tra £150 a month will be noth­ing if you’re un­happy.”

“Salary is only part of the equa­tion,” agrees Diane Domeyer. “You should know what is most im­por­tant to you go­ing into the con­ver­sa­tion and weigh up all as­pects of the of­fer. One of the big­gest mis­takes job can­di­dates make is ac­cept­ing what­ever of­fer comes their way. But you shouldn’t shy away from dis­cussing salary, spe­cially since many em­ploy­ers are open to it.”

How do you go about ne­go­ti­at­ing a bet­ter of­fer? Whether you’re try­ing to per­suade your boss to give you a pay rise or flesh­ing out the de­tails of a po­ten­tial job of­fer, it’s ab­so­lutely vi­tal to do your home­work be­fore­hand – fore­warned re­ally is fore­armed. “The most im­por­tant thing to do be­fore de­cid­ing whether to ne­go­ti­ate is to con­duct back­ground re­search,” says Domeyer. “Re­view salary guides and speak to re­cruiters. Try to find out if the com­pany is grow­ing or has re­cently re­duced its staff, as these events can help to in­form your bar­gain­ing power.”


“You need a solid foun­da­tion for any kind of com­pen­sa­tion re­quest,” Domeyer says. For ex­am­ple, con­sider the im­pact of the projects in your port­fo­lio. “Cre­ate a list of your achieve­ments in pre­vi­ous roles and re­late your work to any pos­si­ble con­tri­bu­tion to the com­pa­nies’ rev­enue. Has your work helped gen­er­ate busi­ness or build vis­i­bil­ity? Have you de­vel­oped more ef­fi­cient pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures? If you don’t have an­swers to these types of ques­tions, it will be dif­fi­cult to make a case.”

Ne­go­ti­a­tion ex­pert Ted Leonhardt is a spe­cial­ist con­sul­tant to the cre­ative in­dus­tries and au­thor of Nail It: Sto­ries for De­sign­ers on Ne­go­ti­at­ing with Con­fi­dence. He says that the Har­vard Ne­go­ti­a­tion Pro­ject (­vardng) is the gold stan­dard for ne­go­ti­a­tion ad­vice and strat­egy. “But there’s one thing it rec­om­mends that is im­pos­si­ble for cre­atives and that is to sep­a­rate your work from your­self. A cre­ative sim­ply can­not do that.”

Leonhardt em­pha­sises the piv­otal im­por­tance of “bar­gain­ing hard, but with re­spect”, along with the need to re­mem­ber that po­ten­tial clients and em­ploy­ers are hu­man be­ings too. “Cre­atives are of­ten ter­ri­bly ap­pre­hen­sive about bar­gain­ing for money. They think the client is go­ing to be­have as if they are buy­ing a used car and try to drive a hard bar­gain, when they’re usu­ally very civilised.

Leonhardt is clear on the fact that prepa­ra­tion shouldn’t stop at back­ground re­search. He says it can also be help­ful to re­hearse po­ten­tial sce­nar­ios and prac­tise how you might re­spond. “We can fall back into cer­tain be­hav­iours when we’re un­der stress, like go­ing into fight

or flight mode,” he says. “The stress of ne­go­ti­a­tion will cause you to feel some anx­i­ety and fear, and that’s nor­mal. Ev­ery­one does it, but we all pre­tend that we don’t.”

“If you think about things overnight, you’ll have the op­por­tu­nity to get your frontal lobe fully en­gaged in the process and to move from an emo­tional space into a ra­tio­nal one,” Leonhardt con­tin­ues. That’s why you should plan for the process of ne­go­ti­a­tion. “Cre­atives of­ten re­sist this be­cause they’re un­com­fort­able with it and are in de­nial. They can go into the sit­u­a­tion un­pre­pared and can find them­selves rolling over and giv­ing in be­cause they’re feel­ing un­com­fort­able with the sit­u­a­tion.”

Clar­ity is im­por­tant, too. “We give de­tails of salary ex­pec­ta­tions from the be­gin­ning,” says Kaler. “Oth­er­wise you can reach the end of the process and find that ex­pec­ta­tions don’t match. The of­fer may have been signed off with HR and now they’ll have to go back with egg on their faces. There should be no sur­prises at of­fer stage.”

What do you need to do to im­press po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers? It all comes back to your port­fo­lio. “Port­fo­lios ab­so­lutely mat­ter, says Nikky Lyle. “Clients say they look at them straight­away, of­ten be­fore they open CVs, and cre­atives can some­times re­ally let them­selves down. If some­thing wouldn’t be good enough to leave their of­fice to go to a client, then why are you send­ing it through to them?”

Tak­ing care over your pre­sen­ta­tion – of your­self and your work – can make all the dif­fer­ence, she says. “You get peo­ple with bril­liant port­fo­lios who can’t be sent for in­ter­views be­fore their over­all pre­sen­ta­tion. Brush your hair and don’t show scruffy print-outs of your port­fo­lio. I al­ways rec­om­mend graphic de­sign­ers show things on an iPad and then bring out printed sam­ples as well.” It’s all about how valu­able you make your­self, she says. If you want to earn more, get the max­i­mum value from your­self.

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