Main Content

Key trends in my conversations with design leaders as we look to 2022

In general, the mood within the design sector is upbeat and positive as we head towards the end of 2021. Briefs have returned, as those on the client side find their budgets being released (although often they’re still on the leaner side), studios are busy and both agencies and in-house teams are recruiting.

It’s not all rosy

The average “confidence score” in the 2021 DBA Annual Survey Report was 69 on a scale of 0-100 (with 76% of agencies giving a positive rating of over 50 – compared to only 36% the year before). But not everyone is feeling the upswing – the situation isn’t rosy for everyone.

Not all businesses have recovered from the pandemic. Sectors like travel and retail are still struggling and on the creative side, micro-agencies especially seem to be the last to be recovering. Businesses with a strong digital aspect and those in FMCG continue to perform well. These are the businesses which got through the pandemic relatively unscathed. The biggest issue they face is the recruitment of talent to keep up with demand.


Recruitment is an issue affecting a lot of industries at the moment as we deal with the ‘Great Resignation’, but it is exacerbated in design by the growing trend of in-housing, as businesses who have woken up to the commercial potential of effective design are building their own in-house design teams.

Talking to heads of design at large businesses, they too are struggling to fill vacancies despite generally being able to offer higher salaries than agencies. It seems the allure of agency culture and a wider variety of work is still a bigger draw than a bigger pay packet for many – although some in-house teams are bucking the trend here.

In a recent article on inflationary pressures, one of the DBA Expert’s highlighted how replacing members of staff generally costs a business 20% more than retaining staff. Understanding the motivators of your team and prospective candidates above and beyond salary, will be vital for recruitment and retention next year. Prioritising professional development for instance, is being seen as increasingly important in demonstrating how invested a business is in both the team’s and its own growth.

Growing back better

A trend that started before the pandemic that has been escalated during the recovery and shows no signs of slowing down is the move towards becoming better, more sustainable businesses. The B-Corp movement has fired the imagination of many in the membership. Agencies like LEAP in Cornwall have led the way and many DBA members are following. In the last week alone B Corp status has been confirmed for Mytton Williams, Sail Creative, and 400 Communications adding to the many that have already achieved the hard-won status.


And finally, less a trend – more a hopeful wish, as the sector spawns a multitude of start-ups meaning there are now approximately 20,000 design agencies in the UK. That wish is for those agencies to look within themselves and truly identify what makes them different from the other 20,000 businesses. Because if you cannot do that, then you will be seen by clients as interchangeable with any other agency who doesn’t articulate their point of difference. So the cheapest option will always be chosen.

If positioning your business for growth is an area you know your business needs to work on in 2022, here are three steps you could take now to get started: 

– Block out time in your calendar next year and set aside budget to focus on this – if you don’t other priorities will always take precedence. DBA Expert Ralph Ardill sets it out well in his call for businesses to set up a ‘Project You’.

– Consider whether you could benefit from the expertise of an external consultant or the sounding-board of experience of a mentor to achieve your aims. 

Sign up today to be first to hear news of our 2022 online learning course dates – in Spring we’ll be running our popular workshop on how to define the most credible and valuable positioning for your business.

Agencies who nail their positioning do very well. These businesses say ‘no’ to work just as often as they say ‘yes’ – and they can charge a premium because they are the experts in what they do and can illustrate how they are different from the 20,000. It’s also how they attract talent too. 

So well done for making it to the end of 2021. Take a well-deserved rest. Recharge those batteries and start 2022 in the knowledge that you and your business can use design to maximise the experiences of your clients and customers, to make them look twice, to think deeper and engage more.

About: Adam Fennelow

Adam is the DBA’s Head of Services and talks to design businesses like yours every day. You can get in touch with Adam at  to set up a call to talk through your challenges; many members find this invaluable.

Image credits: 

Clay Banks | Unsplash

Lea L | Unsplash

Kelly Sikkema | Unsplash


We use cookies to help improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our use of cookies.