AIGA's Design Leaders Confidence Index continued to drop in the most recent quarter. For the third quarter of 2011, the index slipped from 92.27 to 86.63-the lowest measure since the second quarter of 2009. Designers' confidence had escaped the post-recession trough for fifteen months but appears to be headed downward again, undoubtedly influenced by the substantial media focus on the economy and its weakness for the past year-particularly during these early stages of the presidential campaign.
The most recent AIGA survey of more than 300 design leaders reveals that they are cautious in their projections of growth, rather then deeply pessimistic about the economy. For instance, only 20.9 percent believe the overall economy is worse now than six months ago and fewer still (16.2 percent) feel the design economy is worse than in April 2011. Even fewer believe that conditions will be worse in six months: 15.5 percent projecting a worsening national economy and only 11.9 percent believing a weakening, either moderate or substantial, in the design economy.
Over a quarter (27.7 percent) of those surveyed felt that their likelihood of hiring additional staff would be greater than today, and over one in three (37.6 percent) thought their chance of investing in additional hardware and software would be better in six months.
These data suggest an overall drop in design leaders' confidence from earlier periods, yet few believe conditions are deteriorating dramatically in the current time frame or in the coming six months. Only 15.8 percent thought their chances of hiring would be lower in six months and only 13.4 percent thought they would be less likely to invest in hardware and software six months from now.
This cautious optimism, which is certainly less enthusiastic than the attitude reflected in the survey over the past eight quarters, is still more positive than the general perception of the business community. The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, which measures the attitudes of major corporate CEOs, also began to decline in the second quarter and fell further in the third quarter. It is now at 42, down from 55 the previous quarter; an index below 50 means that more respondents are negative than positive.
On a brighter note, confidence among U.S. consumers rose more than economists predicted in November, offering hope that the largest influence on the U.S. economy-consumption-could begin to rise just as the holiday shopping season starts. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment climbed to 64.2 this month, up from 60.9 in October. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected the index to hover around 61.5.