The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) has released the results of its latest Fees and Salary Survey, which was carried out in December 2013 and sought to find out how much Australian designers are worth.

Delivering a detailed picture of average incomes in Australia’s design profession, the survey was sent to architects, design educators, and designers in a range of industries including fashion, textile, graphic, exhibition, interior, furniture and industrial.

The results indicate that while the number of designers and design graduates in Australia is growing, the median incomes for self-employed designers and consultancy owners continue to shrink.

The fees design practices charge have also stalled, with the average design business maintaining fee levels that were set in 2010/11.

David Robertson LFDIA, past DIA national president and author of the survey, says the latest survey illustrates a range of “troubling trends” for Australian designers and the design industry – growing problems that were masked by two decades of economic growth.

“Conditions in the design sector are under pressures not seen since 1990,” says Roberson.

“Several years of national economic and political turmoil have now exposed design to issues of market scale and oversupply.”

For the one third of survey respondents who are individuals working from a home office, changes in economic activity have an almost immediate impact on them.

Two thirds of the respondents were either self-employed or operating a small design business employing less than ten designers. These groups were also affected by the economic downturn, with survey results indicating that their income levels are currently at their lowest.

In fact, median incomes of self-employed designers and consultancy owners are now below the Australian Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings (AWOTE).

“Changes to salaries offered to new employees lag behind economic changes and can now be seen to be decreasing. This year’s survey indicates a significant acceleration of this trend since the last survey,” notes Roberson.

Fresh design graduates just entering the market, as well as students still studying at tertiary institutions, face the same grim outlook. The report says that the median salary offered to a graduate has remained stagnant at $40,000, although respondents are increasingly reporting that salaries are well below this figure.

While recent economic activity is the main driver for these results, with design businesses affected when design work stemming from the host sector dries up, evidence continues to show that the industry is bearing the brunt of an oversupply of designers from tertiary institutions, overseas competition, internet-driven marketing changes and the decline of the Australian manufacturing industry.

Just recently, the DIA sounded the alarm at plans to import overseas workers to fill Australia’s design industry “employment gaps”. This proposal by migration agents requested access to overseas designers through labour hire agreements, but the DIA suggested that this move would only exacerbate the already significant skills surplus.

The DIA also released a discussion paper in 2013 which revealed that one in every 140 Australians have tertiary qualifications in aesthetic-based design vocations – a number Robertson says clearly reveals that the “total number of designers in Australia far outstrips the realistic commercial demand for design services.”

These trends further support the results of previous DIA fees and salary surveys, which were launched in 2003 and 2011.

The 2011/12 report shows that the falling profitability of design services made fees the focus of a lot of concerns, with market competition – fee undercutting, free pitching, buying work, unqualified participants operating at lower feel levels, online competition, and graduate volumes – coming in as designers’ second preoccupation. 

Full results and analysis from the latest DIA Fees and Salary Survey will be made available to DIA members soon through the DIA website.

Images courtesy of the DIA. Lead image: