Educated, overworked, underpaid: Graphic Designers Surveyed

15 January 2016

Ahead of the publication of the latest Graphic Design& title, Graphic Designers Surveyed, we asked the editors to share their findings with us. Here, they offer their thoughts on the results of the survey and what designers and the wider industry can learn from them.

Graphic Designers Surveyed is a rich mix of graphic designer “fact” and “opinion”. Many of its voices will be yours, so we should start with a huge thank you to the readers of It’s Nice That who so generously completed the GraphicDesign& survey that forms the basis of this book.

So, what did you say?

Our expectations were confirmed when we asked:
- Do you work longer hours than you are paid to work: 78% said yes
- Have you ever been asked to “make it bigger”: 90% said yes
- Do you think you have to be able to withstand rejection to succeed: 93% said yes

We were interested to find that:
- 18% of UK-based respondents found it difficult to manage on their present income, compared to only 10% of those based in the US
- 69% of US-based respondents did not do any unpaid pitches as opposed to 52% of those based in the UK (although over 70% overall disagreed with free pitching)
- On average, designers earned less than their partners but worked longer hours
- 67% of respondents had been strategic targeting particular types of work, but only 22% said this had been successful
- 83% would recommend a career in graphic design although only 55% said they were satisfied with their career

We were surprised to find that:
- 88% held an undergraduate degree or higher
- 70% said that they thought print would still be alive and well in 10 years’ time
- Students cited “networking” as the skill they most wanted to acquire
- 45% reported feeling positive about active client involvement
- Only 8% of women and 13% of men felt very comfortable promoting their work
- Respondents were more likely to vote than the average citizen: 70% had voted in their last eligible election

In undertaking this research we learnt a lot about our respondents but we also discovered some of our own unconscious biases – and some of the limitations of data. It is tempting, with such rich information about nearly 2,000 designers, to assume that our results are representative of the industry as a whole. However, as Nikandre Kopcke (our collaborating social scientist) pointed out, that may not be the case – and the data certainly can’t tell us why things are the way they are.

Nikandre also urged us to remember that all forms of presentation skew meaning. While we have tried to aim for clarity and simplicity, we also chose to incorporate some less precise graphics (the lure of big type!), and commissioned Stefanie Posavec to design a few more experimental visualisations that show how graphic design can use form to add new layers of meaning to data.

The statistics above are a quick snapshot of the many answers presented in Graphic Designers Surveyed (as far we are aware, graphic designers have not been surveyed in such detail before). The picture that we see emerging is of an industry full of dedicated, talented students and practitioners who genuinely love their subject. But that the cocktail of creativity and commerce is a double-edged sword. One of our key questions was “what is the worst/best thing about being a designer?” All the responses to this open question are reproduced in the book. Many people gave the same answer for both worst and best. One such answer says it all: “you never switch off.”

Graphic Designers Surveyed is published by GraphicDesign&

Editors: Lucienne Roberts, Rebecca Wright and Jessie Price with contributions from Nikandre Kopcke and Stefanie Posavec


Photo: David Shaw


Photo: David Shaw


Photo: David Shaw

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