Highlights from the 2013 Compensation Survey

Compensating Staff in Design Firms

Firms continue to recover from the economic low of 2009 and the outlook for 2013 looks stronger. Just over 24 percent of firms that responded to the most recent DesignIntelligence Compensation, Bonus & Benefits Survey expect 2013 revenues to increase at least 13 percent from what they earned in 2012. Additionally, according to only 17.7 percent of firms used furloughs in 2012 compared to 34 percent only three years earlier.

As the recovery continues, firms are figuring out the best ways to remain competitive while attracting and retaining top talent.

Firms compensate their staff by a combination of base salary, bonuses and benefits. When combined in the proper proportion, this mix can help firms keep down fixed overhead and develop meritocracies that reward high performance.

Here are a few highlights regarding base compensation, bonuses and benefits from the survey:

  • Base compensation for employees with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture was down slightly from 2009 levels
  • Only 7.9 percent of firms surveyed reduced base compensation in 2012, which was down from 44 percent in 2009
  • 58.9 percent of firms surveyed paid bonuses in 2012, which is up nearly 15 percent from 2009
  • 43.8 percent of firms that paid performance bonuses did so for 100 percent of their employees
  • Other types of bonuses include year-end, referral, profit sharing, spot, registration, relocation, holiday, LEED, project-based bonuses, and finder’s fees
  • Average paid holiday time is 8.0 days; mean sick/paid time off is 6.6 days; mean vacation time is 12.6 days

Extrinsic rewards like cash compensation are useful for attracting and retaining staff, but may not be the most effective way to motivate top talent. High-performing designers and staff also need intrinsic rewards such as a strong sense of purpose.

According to DesignIntelligence, 9.7 percent of firms surveyed give employees an allowance for pro bono work, which allows designers and staff members to pursue projects that are meaningful to them. Creative benefits such as these can be equally good for firms and employees: a workplace that provides service and meaningful work, as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth, can differentiate a firm in the struggle to attract and retain top talent.


Print and PDF editions of the DesignIntelligence Compensation, Bonus & Benefit Survey are available online at the DI Bookstore