Independent publishing company GraphicDesign& has launched its latest title: Graphic Designers Surveyed. The book provides fascinating insights (beautifully presented) about the industry through the responses of 1,988 graphic designers from the UK and US.
The multiple-choice questions resulted in data about gender, pay, hours, specialisms, interns, awards and more. As a Design Manager, the ones that caught my particular interest related to the selling or promoting of design services and the relationships with clients. In terms of self-promotion, nearly 70% of respondents said they have never spoken publicly about their work (i.e. given a lecture or spoken at a conference). Only 10.5% felt ‘very comfortable’ promoting their own work, but only 11.5% thought ‘self-promotion’ would be the most useful skill to develop. And clients are firmly in the driving seat when it comes to initiating projects. They were found to approach designers much more often than designers approach clients (just under 60% said clients ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ approached them whereas only 12% said they ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ approached clients).
The open questions made for even more interesting reading in relation to clients. Not surprisingly perhaps, they were cited quite a lot in relation to “what is the worst thing about being a designer?”. Two themes struck me:
First, graphic designers don’t feel other people understand or appreciate what they do. Frustrations arise from situations where clients or account managers think they can start tinkering with designs (worst = “working with clients who think they can design better than you”), or requests are made that reveal a low-level of understanding: (worst = “being asked: can you jazz it up a bit”). Not knowing what graphics designers do translates into a perceived lack of value. Respondents talk about ‘non-designers’ thinking what they do is easy, quick, free, and is based only on their ability to operate software packages on their Mac.
Second, a number of answers articulated the frustration of having to deal with this lack of awareness from: stupid / restrictive / overbearing / picky clients with “bad taste” who look down on designers. And there was a sense of resignation to these situations: “having to keep quiet when people who aren’t designers talk about design”, “being forced to work in Microsoft Word”, “having to pare back your ideas for reasons that don’t make sense or be relevant”, “making something beautiful and having a client ruin it”. This hold that the client is felt to have came out in the data as well, where over 60% of respondents felt that their work “is only as good as a client will let it be”.
But is this client situation inevitable, or are graphic designers not asserting themselves? Are they equipped to self-promote their value and articulate the terms on which they will and won’t compromise? Should clients, regardless of their knowledge of design, get to control projects because they are paying? In my view, the situation would be improved if graphic design training included the art of negotiation. Because ideas do need explaining and justifying to clients who are often 'non-designers' – it’s part of the process. As the data showed, learning how to sell isn’t top of most designers list, but perhaps it should be. The alternative is to passively wait in hope of “those few interesting briefs” to come along, because “when the project you are passionate about is going right, nothing could feel better”.
And here is where the “best things about being a designer” were much less concerned with clients. Here the book shares the voices of a group of people who know that working in graphic design offers: variety / freedom / beauty / opportunity / fun / diversity / fulfilment and above all, creativity. It provides a chance to “make cool shit”, “make a difference”, “learn new things” and “do what I love” whilst being paid to do it. So, despite the potential for long hours, unappreciative clients and not great pay, the big majority (83%) said they would recommend a career in graphic design.
Graphic Designers Surveyed is available to buy at: