The State of Design

The results from Google’s and AIGA’s 2017 design census are in


Think you know all there is to know about the field of design? What about the people who are creating the visuals behind all the advertising, branding and marketing you see every day? Do you know who they are? Google and AIGA wanted more insight into this group. That’s why they collaborated on the 2017 Design Census, an open survey whose goal was to understand the complex economic, social and cultural factors that are shaping the practice of design today.

This survey wasn’t just a look at salaries and job titles; it was intended as a deeper dive into the details behind designers to better understand their professional development and ways to empower more on-the-job happiness. More than 13,000 individuals answered their call. Here’s a look at some of the results.

Who are designers?

Coming in at 60.4 percent, white or Caucasian designers dominate the field. The next largest demographic groups are bi- or multi-racial at 11.3 percent and Asian at 10.4 percent. Designers are an educated bunch as well, with less than 10 percent having no degree.

When it comes to gender and sexual orientation, almost 80 percent of those surveyed identified as not LGBTQ. Individuals who identified as female edged out males in the field—53.5 percent to 44.8 percent. Basically, the odds are strong that if you are a designer you are white and straight with a college degree.

Where do designers work?

The vast majority of the designers who responded to the census are employed full time, with just over 42 percent saying they worked full time, in house for a company and another 28.6 percent describing their employment status as full time at an agency or consultancy. So, are they happy were they are working? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still shopping around for something better. More than 65 percent of those surveyed said they were “casually looking” for another job.

The respondents were also all relatively new to the field. Just over 31 percent had only been working as a designer for one to four years, while 28 percent fell into the category of five to nine years in the field.

How satisfied are designers?

The survey asked how designers felt about their job, and 64.1 percent replied that “It’s pretty good.” The perception of stability probably has a great deal to do with this sense of overall satisfaction. The respondents also indicated that more than 57 percent saw their jobs as stable, and another 25.2 percent viewed their positions as “rock solid.”

Contributing to this level of job contentment may be the salary, benefits and hours that the designers are working. More than three fourths of those surveyed said they averaged a 40- to 50-hour work week. Almost 50 percent of the designers indicated they had only worked at their current position for under a year or one to two years. It’s possible that many are still so new to their positions that their satisfaction stems from that, and they haven’t yet had an opportunity to experience burn out.

Another factor may be the size of the companies the designers are working for. About 25 percent of respondents indicated that their company employed one to 10 people, and 19 percent worked at a location with 11 to 50 other employees. Those working at companies with 1,000-plus employees fell in between those two groups, at 22.8 percent.

What challenges does design face?

Finally, the survey asked what the most critical issues and challenges were currently facing those in the design world. Among these were design “not having a ‘seat at the table’.” Also, of concern was diversity in the industry. Rounding out the top five were ethical issues facing designers, the cost of education and equal access to it, and consumer versus social impact focus. 

The trends that designers see having the biggest impact on their work in the future centered around artificial intelligence technology and augmented/virtual reality. As a result, designers rated adaptability to both technological and social change as the most important design skill for the future.