Junior designers enjoy pay rise while senior roles stagnate in 2019

Written by: Henry Wong
Published on: 24 Jan 2020

In the past year, entry-level designers experienced bigger pay rises (10%) compared to mid-level (2.86%) and senior (2.34%) roles, a report shows.

The research has been carried out by global creative recruitment agency Aquent, and is based on the 2019 placements it made in the UK. According to Aquent, there is a “soaring demand for junior design talent”.

Junior roles that have performed particularly well over the last five years include graphic designers (average salary of £28,000) and motion graphic designers (£28,500) which were pay rises of 30.2% and 32.6% respectively.

“Extra lengths to secure new talent”

One reason for the rise is a smaller talent pool — owing to the rising cost of university education — which means graduates are seeking higher wages, according to Aquent. “Employers have to go to extra lengths to compete for and secure new talent,” the recruiters say.

Last year, there was a drop in the number of art and design students at A-Levels, which had a knock on effect for university places in the same fields. Results from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed a decline in places accepted on creative arts and design courses by 1,010 from 41,980 in 2018 to 40,970 in 2019. As well as higher university fees, there has been a greater emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, enginerring and mathematics) at schools.

There has also been “rapid growth” in content marketing which has resulted in an “increased demand for designers at a time when candidates are sparse”.

Another trend which has increased employment is brands’ focus on expanding in-house design teams, with roles ranging from graphic design to strategy. Because of the volume of work – and the requirements of locally-targeted work rather than global campaigns – it is often more costly to continually outsource design work.

Senior stagnation

While junior positions have enjoyed a pay rise, senior roles have stagnated. On average, creative directors (with an average salary of £92,500), digital designs (£40,000) and 3D animators (£42,500) have not had a pay rise in the past five years.
A creative director told Aquent that one reason for this could be that senior creatives are more easily “fulfilled by their work” while junior talent “will have to first gain experience to secure a dream job”.

“Once they’ve found work that inspires them (often in the mid-point of their career), they’ll likely stay put,” the creative director says.

The Netflix, Amazon and Apple effect

One design sector in “hot demand” is User Experience (UX), according to Aquent.

Senior roles in UX have experienced the most “dramatic” pay increases; UX architects (average salary: £60,000), leads (£82,500) and front-end developers (£60,000) have gone up 26.3%, 17.9% and 14.3% respectively.

Aquent attributed this to the “intuitive, seamless service delivered by Netflix, Amazon and Apple” that customers are now used to; companies see UX as a worthwhile investment.

However, salaries for mid-level UX roles have started to “level off”, Aquent says. On average, mid-level UX roles increased by only 1.11%, which is below the UK inflation rate of 2.48%.

Aquent says: “This could be a sign that the UX boom is slowing down, as more people have learned the necessary skills to succeed in what was a brand new profession a few years ago”.

“Agencies need to take heed”

Aliza Sweiry, Aquent’s UK managing director calls this year’s findings “positive”, highlighting the “excellent” junior pay rises as demonstrating employers’ desire to secure new talent.

However, she warns that agencies and brands will “need to take heed” over the salary drops at more senior levels.

She says: “Increased competition and a growing trend for senior executives to escape the rat race for freelance opportunities will necessitate improved offering in the year ahead.”