Times are a changin’….

First off, an admission. I am an accountant. Trained with Ernst & Young and qualified in 1992. Been out of the profession since 1993 running businesses, but you needed to know this fact.

My mum loved this. Her boy was an accountant. Her friends understood what that meant. Back then (in the LAST century) being an accountant, banker, doctor, or lawyer was a big deal. It also meant that you could earn big bucks – that was the value that society placed on the “professions”.

However, this has never rested that easily with me. Accountants & bankers create NOTHING. They’re vital to a smooth running economy, don’t get me wrong, but without entrepreneurs, without those that take risks and CREATE the wealth, then there’s nothing for them to count!

Now, I’ve been out of the accountancy profession for 15 years, running businesses. This means that I get paid whatever the business can afford, not what the “going rate” for an accountant is. If my business does well, so do I. If not, then I suffer too. That’s what being an entrepreneur, a risk-taker is all about.

I have a big beef just now about how much graduates earn. In my business we need to hire trainee accountants. The salaries that we have to pay in Aberdeen for a graduate trainee accountant is far in excess of what an art or design graduate earns. In some cases by as much as 50%. That’s ridiculous!

Society STILL values the “professional” higher than the creative, but I think that’s WRONG. Times have changed. They’ve moved on, and it’s now time for these roles to be rewarded on the basis of the vaue that they create, not on the basis of some archaic logic.

C’mon folks, let’s get this sorted!

27 thoughts on “Times are a changin’….

  1. And another thing. Degree Shows. You don’t get that with accounting or legal degrees! Can you imagine it – here’s a great brief I wrote this year, or this spreadsheet has an amazing pivot table!


    That said, we do need accountants & lawyers, and I am a BIG fan of those that embrace change and really GET service!

  2. Good points.

    Apologies if I head way off topic here, hopefully not…

    From a design perspective I believe the problem goes all the way back to the way art and design are taught at school, through university and into working life.

    For me design* is screwed until it loses it’s tight alignment with fine art. The two have less in common than many would believe yet they’re still taught alongside each other.

    There is a fundamental problem with the way art and design are perceived from very early on which continues right the way through to the business world. People don’t always value “creatives” as much as they should because their understanding is based on misconceptions of these people making pretty pictures and doing “that arty stuff we did at school”.

    I was discouraged to see so many of the designers still focusing on aesthetics and clever ideas at the latest Gray’s degree show, few had focused on design thinking or the strategic purpose of design as a tool (though some had of course!). In fact I recently had a discussion with one Gray’s design student who refuses to value design unless it is aesthetically pleasing, looking good was the most important thing. This in my experience is how most people see design, not as something that can influence the economy, the direction of a business or culture.

    We’ve had the Bauhaus, Ulm HfG and more recent progress in design thinking but still we’re struggling to escape from a victorian perspective. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Ulm HfG:

    — “HfG pioneered the integration of science and art, thereby creating a teaching of design based on a structured problem-solving approach: reflections on the problems of use by people, knowledge of materials and production processes, methods of analysis and synthesis, choice and founded projective alternatives, the emphasis on scientific and technical disciplines, the consideration of ergonomics, the integration of aesthetics, the understanding of semiotics and a close academic relationship with industry.”

    This was 50 years ago, times have changed and more could be included in this but as a fundamental basis it’s more important now than ever before.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t believe art plays no role in design — it plays a role in many disciplines — the problem I see is an overbearing connection with art and misconceptions of art itself having a knock-on effect.

    * I’m referring to interactive and graphic design, I can’t comment on others.

    p.s. I don’t mean to belittle artists here as I see they face the same problems, you just have to look at the way ACSEF treated the art community in Aberdeen over UTG for proof of the lack of respect and understanding they get from professionals.

    1. Also apologies for the poor spelling/grammar, I’ll blame it on the Saturday night beers 😉

  3. Hey Mysterious Stranger! You make some really good points. You clearly know the creative side far better than me. It’s always interesting to hear it from a completely different perspective.

    I’ve only recently started to see things from the design side, probably because of my daughter. I’ve found it interesting the way that society is still hanging on to out-dated views. It’s really no different to the gender pay inequality.

    The change is starting to happen and I believe that we’ll see a visible shift in the next few years.

  4. As someone working in the Creative Industries, I wholeheartedly agree with Ali. Often creative careers are valued in salary terms at less than say a “profession” such as accountancy and law. However I can’t help but think that we, “The Creatives” are a fundamental part of the problem.

    There is a huge misconception within the Creative Industry that to be commercial, to make a profit, to underpin good creative practice with good business is to sell out, to turn your back on what is important and to somehow lessen the value and integrity of what you do. I too am guilty of this, although I’m working on it!

    It sounds ridiculous, but time and time again I hear Creatives making bold statements about how their motivations are not financial and that they create work to fulfill some more spiritual or socially profound need. The image of the poor, penniless Artist, tucked away in a dimly lit studio, furiously creating work which is brilliant, but which reaps him no reward has somehow become inspirational! In no other industry would financial failure be so revered!

    Of course we are all passionate about what we do, and if we weren’t driven by our hearts we wouldn’t be Creatives, but come on, we need to pay our bills like everyone else in society. Artistic merit and critical acclaim are great, but they don’t pay the Council Tax and they don’t fill the fridge.

    Until we rid ourselves of this ridiculous mindset, that to earn money (and I mean good money) for what we do, to value our work and our time financially, then this vicious circle will continue: We under value our work, society undervalues us.

    1. Thanks for such an interesting and thought-provoking reply Jo. I do find it fascinating. As someone running what, at its’ core, is an accountancy business, I think that we have a responsibility too. Business needs to value great design too. At the end of the day my iPad is just as tablet computer – what makes me love it is the way it looks, the way it feels, the thought that’s gone into how its’ packaged. All the creative stuff in other words. All the stuff that means Apple can sell it for a premium!

      What I’ve also found amazing over the past few months as our number of “creative” clients has grown, is how little understanding they have of what being self-employed, or freelance, means. Right down to the basics of how to do it. I’ve been told by recent graduates that they’ve had NO training on that AT ALL. I’m flabbergasted.

      We’re now talking with a number of institutions across Scotland – I really believe that we can be that bridge between arts & business, and we deliver it in an open, accessible style, where no-one will judge you just becasuse you don’t know.

      Interesting times ahead….

  5. Don’t get me started on the lack of Professional Practice advice taught at Art Schools… This is the single biggest complaint I have about my education and something which needs to be addressed urgently if Creative Graduates are to have a fighting chance post-recession.

    From my own experience, a series of lectures from a Tutor claiming to be a “Entrepreneurial Studies Expert” taught me nothing which has helped me in the last 5 years. We need practical, industry specific advice from people who have real experience in what they are talking about and haven’t just read a few books on how to run a business. I’m talking how to write an invoice, how to price your work, how to register self employed… it’s such a vital part of our education, yet sorely neglected.

    1. We’ve had some really interesting, early-stage, discussions with a couple of art colleges. The key is getting buy-in at the right level. Hopefully we can continue to make progress. In the meantime do you think that the guys at Central Station would be interested in us doing some content along the lines of what you’ve outlined above? Are there any other channels we should be looking at?


  6. Recently we worked in conjunction with the D&AD doing surgeries for students at ‘New Blood’ giving advice and help to students coming into the market.

    I’ve also done talks previously discussing the issues the creative and advertising sectors face when trying to entice talent in. There are 10 other sectors that young people can focus on which pay more at entry level and realistically creative and advertising is not as diverse as you may think.

    The problem is not limited to the creative sectors, although as a head hunter, I can confirm that in most cases creative’s do get paid less than people at similar level in say client services.

    Keep fighting back, change will take time.

  7. I personally think [speaking as a designer] that the main issue is how design is commissioned, especially in Scotland. We need to educate businesses in the true value of design, and how to get good value from designers. For example, how do we develop good, long-standing client relationships which provide better results,
    as opposed to wasted hours of unpaid pitching involving countless agencies with ultimately fragmented approaches.

    Mysterious Stranger’s point is well put, but I couldn’t disagree more about artists and designers training in close proximity. In general fine artists [in art school] are more effective at conceptual analysis and engage in critical thinking – compare the reading lists and lectures of any fine art and design course.

    No question that both artists and designers require better preparation for professional life than they currently get, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the experience of art school and researching, experimenting and collaborating.

    Alasdair, please feel free to jump on Central Station with thoughts/advice – or alternatively email me if you have a bigger scale idea… Cheers

    1. Hi Emlyn, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think there’s a lot we can do to de-mystify the process and make setting up on your own a lot easier. I have some ideas about how we can do this an an accessible, easy to follow style. DM me your email address and I’ll send you my thoughts. I’m in Glasgow the week after next if you’re around & want to have a chat…..

    2. Hi Emlyn, I definitely agree with what you say about artists and art schools but still do I think the relationship needs to part a little. Design and art share many similarities but lumping them together (as I’ve seen many Universities do) simply isn’t right.

      I don’t think the current “old” system is the best way forward any more and in fact there are design teachers who have already made changes already or they’re making changes. The work their students come out with is very exciting stuff.

  8. It’s funny, I was just speaking about this to a friend (also a creative) the other day. There seems to be three major factors attributed to up and coming artists, designers, art directors, copy writers, photographers, hell anyone who has an idea that inspires or changes another’s emotions and perspective. Italian sociologist Pareto interestingly divided society into two categories. The ‘speculators’, those who are pre-occupied by the possibilities of new combinations. And the ‘stockholders’, those who are steady going, unimaginative people who strive for routine. Although this may be considered a constrictive account of the world it holds much truth even in today’s multinational global village. Which leads to the first problem faced by creatives, lack of mutual understanding. And, it’s of little surprise to consider the lack of empathy between stockholders and speculators as by the very natures of both groups noodles. The former lives in a world of finite outcomes, the numbers must add up, results must be measured, the research must be shown in the references and bibliography, and growth must be met on Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 terms. But the latter, everything and anything becomes an influence. Each bit of work could have infinite outcomes; indeed the project may seem complete but could be reworked on a inspired whim. Any number of people may directly or indirectly influence the outcome and it may take an undetermined amount of hours to fulfil the brief or get to the point to sign a signature at the bottom of the image.
    So, the gulf of understanding is stark. Each side can be entrenched in their own ideology and why not? The concept of a obtaining an idea, deign or colour choice will seem as elusive to many as learning about quantum physics; strange, unfathomable and elusive. Little wonder then us creative types struggle to earn our true worth.
    And there’s another issue. Cost, economy, survival or greed. Those young creatives employed by a permanent employer are more vulnerable to this exploitation. There are agencies up and down the country and across the world that go out of their way to create a culture of thought that if you’ve got a job doing what you love, you should be happy to just to have that job. It’s a catch 22, as employers well know, any good creative approaches their next project with an attitude that says “THIS will be my best work ever!!!”. And they have every reason to, as the creative speculator has one other feature that sets them aside from the stockholder – the portfolio. With out a blinding portfolio there is little chance you will progress up the ladder or land bigger, better commissions. Employers know this also. The result? Pay as little as you can get away with and feed creatives not carrots on a stick, but tenuous bones which can be gnawed on and the marrow sucked out – after all, we will be grateful of the work. So we work round the clock, weekends too! For little payback, but we get to create and create feathers in our big floppy bohemian caps.
    You may challenge your employer at your peril. He will only draw your attention to the loud booming sound down the hall. The deep, resonant sound of hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of OTHER hungry creatives who DON’T have a job yet and queue at the door of your office touting their undeveloped but interesting portfolios while quoting artists, films and websites you’ve never even heard of!!! The reason you don’t hear the booming down the corridor was because the quaking in your boots drowned it out.
    Consider this, in 1971 a young design student was approached to submit some branding designs for a new sportswear line, she grabbed the chance and submitted several pieces – one of which was commissioned. She charged a final bill of $35. The design she came up with was the Nike ‘swoosh’, now the most recognised symbol on the planet.
    And this leads to the final issue. There are many of us. When I say many, I mean many . In fact, it’s saturated. And the sad fact is that there are few jobs or opportunities out there. Even those who possess a particularly unique style or methods which may be in high demand will eventually find themselves eclipsed by someone adopting or developing their style or simply it no longer remains fashionable. So not only must they compete amongst themselves but they must keep on eye over their shoulder to see what’s happening around them and adapt.
    So, it’s always going to be difficult being a creative or a speculator, we can only hope that appreciation continues to grow financially as well as empathically.
    The times may be a-changing, but the pump don’t work as the vandals broke the handle.

    1. Adz, as always you make some great points. To be honest I’m not best placed to respond. My initial blog was based on a discussion we were having in the office on Friday afternoon about salary levels here in Aberdeen. Catherine related that to a conversation she’d had with a recent graduate from Grays and what their salary expectations were. It just all seemed a bit out of kilter tbh.

      Look forward to chatting about this some more over a beer in Musa on Friday 🙂

  9. As a designer, I understand many of the points made and I could really do with that extra 50% in my wages.

    But at the end of the day, would you trust an art graduate with any money? I wouldn’t, I’d be off with the safe if I was left in the room for 10 minutes, living in luxury until the police caught up with me. Better to leave it in the hands of accountants. They have no real life to spend the money on, so your money stays safe. They’re paid more as it’s such a sad job that no one with the faintest imagination would want to do it.

    1. Mike, I’ll keep you away from my safe! Contrary to poular opinion, there are many accountants who DO have a life, and who are very, very good. Some of them even become entrepreneurs and supporters of the creative community *coughs* 😉

  10. Adz, that post should be displayed permanently on the Community page of thisiscentralstation.com ! Brilliant summation.

    Alasdair, will DM you now.

    Stranger, I was thinking of contemporary design school examples this morning. Have you seen ECAL? It’s a really interesting place in Switzerland, dedicated to design and flush with corporate cash and a starchitect campus. As attractive and innovative as it is though, my gut feel is that they end up in an endless one-up-manship game of creating ever cleverer, wittier products, which ultimately don’t respond to real design or ‘world’ issues, but rather exist in a closed dialogue that is designed to stimulate an outdated model of what ‘designer’ means. That’s a crude and broad generalisation though – I’ve never been in person and would probably eat those words if I did.

    1. Alasdair, much thanks for your praise! I think what I wrote still applies to the Aberdeen scene which is probably unique due to its oil market; but that’s a whole other subject I guess so yeah, let’s discuss over a BrewDog or two.

      Emlyn, again, many thanks – please feel free to do what you like with my words. There could be many more.

  11. Could the lack of regulation also contribute to the problem of wages and respect? Literally anyone can become a designer with a computer and a copy of MS Word handy. I can’t imagine it’s quite that easy or common amongst professionals.

  12. Regulation is something which is actively being looked at by certain bodies such as the CSD [Chartered Society of Designers], although I’m not directly involved so I can’t comment in detail. I believe they are looking at issues such as free-pitching, copyright and IP.

    I don’t have a problem with the idea anyone can design stuff on a computer – to me that’s great a democratisation, and ultimately means I get to do more interesting work! It is frustrating when people assume you just pick fonts from an arbitrary menu for a living though. In the same way that photographers rail against the GWC [Guy with camera]. Keeps you in check though…

  13. to be fair, the same thing DOES happy in our industry. Anyone can set themselves up as an “accountant”. They’ll typically be working from home and their clients will be “micro-businesses”. They’ll also be cheap as chips, which de-bases the market. We choose to avoid competing on price and focus, rather, on service.

    Many people do try to design or accounts themselves and 99.99% of the time they make a mess of it. I’m sure you guys can tell a home-made website or logo, just like I can spot a botched set of accounts from 100 yards!

  14. “I’m sure you guys can tell a home-made website or logo, just like I can spot a botched set of accounts from 100 yards!”

    You would think… 🙂

  15. Fellow (ex!) CA myself… biggest problem with that being that I always have to make sure I attend the first board meeting after being voted onto a voluntary organisation, as otherwise some old friend on there will remember that I was once an accoutant and make me treasurer.

    An interesting guy to follow on this is Sean Low at http://www.thebusinessofbeingcreative.com/ An ex “suit” himself, Sean now consults with creative industry people (often wedding professionals.. a BOOMING business in the US (don’t know about the UK though)).

    After being a CA in practice, I worked for many years running various businesses, but now focus on business coaching / consulting. With regard to being paid appropriately for what you do, I would first say to a) don’t undersell yourself, and b) try not to charge “by the hour”, but charge for the value you provide. It isn’t a simply formula, it takes a lot of work to develop client relationships so that they are happy paying what you are worth and then hire you back for more, but again, all part of not underselling.

    Of course the great positive is that if you can charge more for your time, you then (if you don’t get greedy with how much time you bill) have more time free to both stay current in your field and to put in that little bit extra to exceed client expectations.

    Ach, I’m on a roll now. To illustrate, say you need to net (for round numbers) $10,000 per month. If you charge $50 per hour, you are chasing your tail to bill 200 hours and do your client development, admin etc. What if, for example, you focus on creating client value instead of banging out hours ? You could find yourself billing at an average effective rate of (say) $200 per hour, so you only have to bill 50 hours per month to hit your target, and that gives you a LOT of time to ensure you are both staying right on top of your game and also giving exemplary service to your clients.

    Enough from me for now.. quiet Saturday morning here, just found ali’s blog thanks to twitter and @tartancat

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