2021 was a year of uncertainty.
The world, recovering from the pandemic in fits in starts, was in flux. And so was the design industry. Newly emerging aesthetic trends dominated. The job landscape continued to shift, with the ongoing trend toward remote work options in office settings becoming permanent, according to Gallup. And for those looking for work, it's a job seeker's market—a great time to get the salary you want in your next design role.
But there haven't been a lot of hard numbers to assess how exactly the design industry evolved over the past year. Until now. Dribbble and Editor X surveyed 13,500 design professionals on the current design landscape and evolving style of work for the 2021 Design Industry Trends Report, and the results are in. Here are the top five takeaways that designers navigating the job market need to know. (See the full report here.)
1. Most designers are under 35
The proportion of young designers working in the industry increased in 2021, and by a lot. A whopping 83% of global designers are under 35 years old, according to the survey, placing the vast majority of industry professionals in the Millennial and Gen-Z generations.
2. Agency work decreased
Unstable work environments led to a slew of changes in how design professionals work (and where). The first major trend: Full-time employment at agencies fell by almost 10% this year.
3. The most valuable skills of 2021 are business skills
We've said it before and we'll say it again: design is about a lot more than pixel-pushing. This stat is another bit of evidence to add to the pile. According to the survey, designers identified business acumen as the skill most critical to advancing their career in 2021. Move over, Photoshop.
4. More designers are going freelance
This might not come as a surprise considering macro trends like the move to remote work, preference for flexible hours, and general instability in the job market right now: the proportion of freelancers in the industry is on the rise.
Self-employment was already popular among designers: 19% of graphic designers were self-employed in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the number of designers who are freelancing and looking for gigs increased in 2021, according to the Dribbble and Editor X survey. That trend should only continue—the number of designers who said they'd like to freelance full time in the next 2-3 years also increased, the survey says.
5. The majority of designers prefer flexible hours
The most coveted perk or remote work? Not being tethered to a 9-5 hours. The majority of designers who took the survey said flexible hours are what they most enjoy about working remotely. However, that could be a double-edged sword: a lack of work-life balance was the biggest challenge, according to the survey.
See more data from the 2021 Design Industry Report here.