AIGA's Design Leaders Confidence Index slipped slightly in the most recent quarter, dropping from an all-time high of 105.09 to 101.42. Yet this quarter's measure of confidence in the design economy remains higher than it was in April 2005, when AIGA premiered its survey.
This high level of confidence occurs even as broad economic measures indicate an anemic recovery from the recession. Nonetheless, it is consistent with other measures of anticipated economic activity; most notably the Conference Board reports that CEO confidence rose five points in the first quarter of 2011 and that consumer confidence rose slightly (a mere 1.6 percent from March to April). The Employment Trends Index and Leading Economic Index were relatively stable, showing only modest fluctuation over the quarter.
The most recent AIGA survey of more than 300 design leaders reflected that the majority were confident the state of the economy as a whole-and of the design economy in particular-would be moderately better in the next six months. Overall, there were more optimists than pessimists, although the number who thought the economy would improve was lower than in the previous quarter.
Fewer than nine percent of the respondents felt that the design economy was worse today than six months ago, and fewer than six percent felt that conditions would be worse six months in the future.
In terms of employment, nearly two out of five felt the chances of hiring additional staff were better than in January; only 13 percent thought they were worse. Among corporate CEOs, half thought they would be hiring additional staff in the next six months.
More than 40 percent felt the likelihood of purchasing additional software and hardware had improved in the past quarter; only nine percent felt it had declined.
While the design profession's optimism may appear to be inconsistent with national economic data-which seem to have flattened-AIGA believes that this is a reflection of increasing demand for design as companies look toward building competitiveness during a recovery. The first phase of business' reaction to any recession is normally cutting expenses. Once operations are as lean as possible, CEOs must look toward increasing revenue to improve future profitability, since there is no further gain to be had from cost cutting. This is often the point at which there is a reinvestment in design as a means of creating product or service differentiation and competitive advantage as the consumer economy recovers.
Anecdotally, designers are reporting that they are currently very busy, although project budgets are considerably leaner than several years ago.