Promotion by job title

Apparently it’s a thing … promoting designers by job title only, not by salary.
We think that’s detrimental to your business and to the creative industry.

Employing, managing and rewarding designers is not easy, but what makes it easier is managing expectations. This post was partly inspired by a number of designers in our network who were positive they would soon be offered a partnership after rising through the ranks quickly. When that didn’t happen, they left the current position, disappointed and disillusioned.

The business lost a talented employee and the industry a disillusioned participate – further proof promotion by title only doesn’t work.

Why promotion by job title happens:

  1. Accolades: you want to congratulate give recognition for a job well done but cashflow is poor.
  2. Perception: the business looks better employing a suite of senior designers rather than junior or midweight.

I’d like to introduce Jude, one of our senior designers working on your project

Why promotion by job title sucks

    1. Extra responsibilities should be rewarded, by money or by flexibility. If extra responsibilities are not rewarded, it’s exploitation.
    2. If there are no extra responsibilities the job title is inaccurate. Who does that help? It’s not helpful when the designer applies for their next position without the corresponding skills – it reflects badly on your business, and it sets them up for failure

How to promote designers morally

Job titles are valuable stepping stones in a career. Along with the job description, it gives employed designers the guardrails to understand expectations of them now, and what extra skills they need to get to the next stage.


Job Description sample

Here’s an example of a Mid-weight Designer job description. (This is an extract from What’s a fair wage – an ebook about rewarding the roles in a creative business.)

Job description: Responsible for executing the creative output to a high standard under some supervision.

The key here is under some supervision. A junior designer would be under supervision. A mid-weight works some time under supervision and other times independently. The pendulum swings for a senior designer who works predominantly independently.

Role purpose: Design of high-quality output, while delivering on time, on budget and on strategy to the highest creative standards.

Purpose outlines the facts of the role: the designer must have an understanding of constraints like deadlines, budgets, briefs and an ability to self-manage quality control.

Key responsibilities: Take creative direction to design and implement high quality solutions.

Responsibilities manage expectations – a mid-weight will take creative direction from above. A comprehensive job description should include an org chart to show the hierarchy of the studio.

Annual Salary ex super

At the top: $ 90,000
Starting:    $ 65,000

We all need to feel rewarded for our input. We suggest using a range to communicate there’s room within the job title before moving to another job title. (We often show this range as a bar chart with a notation identifying where the employee’s skill levels currently sits within the range.) Which leads to…

Skills needed to move to senior designer

  • Experience
  • Conceptual/creative ability
  • Ability to take direction and add value to ideas generated by others
  • Ability to collaborate and mentor junior designers
  • Deliver profitability

The last part of this case study identifies the skills needed to get from the bottom of the salary range to the top. Again it’s about managing expectations. Helping designers self-regulate their expectations with knowledge.

Promotion when everything stays the same

Promoting with a job title only when the job description and the tasks remain the same, is an empty promise. It reflects badly on the studio when the designer moves on and gives a false value to the designer when they stay. Before long you’ll reach the ceiling of job descriptions with nowhere to go.

There are other ways to congratulate employees. If the company is cashpoor, recognise and congratulate a job well done publicly. Often our wins just need to be acknowledged. Share your appreciation and accolades with a lunch or mid-morning cake in their honour, or offer a day off in lieu. Or a bonus. All are tangible, sustainable expressions of reward.

So what?

If you are an employee, make sure you have a job description clearly outlining what is expected of you and what you need to do to be promoted.
If you are an employer, ensure your employees have a clear job description outlining what is expected of them, and what they need to do for promotion. Resist the temptation to make unsustainable, short-term flourishes and instead, invest in your employees by thinking longer term.


The case study used is from our ebook: What’s a fair wage? Exploring roles and rewards. It includes:

  • benchmark wages – we combined our knowledge with research from six leading recruiters (Artisan; Become; The Brownbill Effect; Creative Natives; Creative Recruiters and The Creative Store) to give definitive wage ranges for 28 positions in the Australian creative industry. Not only that, we describe what skills will get you from the bottom to the top of that range.
  • benchmark freelance rates for 28 positions in the creative industry.
  • and because it’s not all about money, we describe five alternative ways to reward employees and why they’re successful.

Pay rates in the creative industry have always been arbitrary. Our industry has never been unionised or under a relevant State award so salary packages are often based on hear-say and market-demand. That makes it hard for creative business owners to come up with the right figure. We also talk about job descriptions because that’s what holds these figures together.

What’s a fair wage? is 40 pages of relevant, current information available at $30 + GST

Want to continue the discussion? Email Carol.

Carol Mackay

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Want more?

These articles talk about improving our relationship with clients:

      1. The most difficult thing about being a designer is maintaining your energy
      2. Content clients want from designers
      3. What design leadership is, and isn’t

About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a dislike for the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.


For a short while, an archive of my design work at
My current work can be viewed at and

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.