For the most recent reporting period, fees generated by a designer averaged $289,000, up from $275,000 the previous year. A nice bump, right? Well, for 2009, that number was $295,000. The significance? At that time, the Giants employed 8,700 design staffers. Now, the Giants employ 15,500 and expect to hire another 1,000 in upcoming months. So nearly the same amount of fees, per designer, are being generated—with nearly double the staff. Steelman Partners president Ethan Nelson offered this reason for his firm’s positive numbers: “We’re investing in our greatest asset.”
Giants are focusing on two areas: clients and personnel. The top business concerns are to get clients to understand the value of design and then to get them to pay appropriate fees for it. Total fee growth proves that this focus is paying off. Also important are recruiting, retaining, and training staff. As mentioned, firms are hiring, and we finally saw a little movement in long-stagnant salary levels. Compensation was still flat for most folks. But designers, in particular, experienced a bump in average salary from $67,700 to $71,500. And “offering appropriate pay and benefits” is 64 percent more important to Giants than it was last time we asked.