Project manager

,  13 March 2013

Project managers deal with the business aspect of a design project, such as liaising with teams and clients and managing budgets.

The work may involve travel to meetings with clients. Image: University of the Creative Arts
The work may involve travel to meetings with clients. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What does a project manager do?

Project managers oversee the business side of a design project. They are not usually involved in the creative process. They ensure that contracts are fulfilled on-time and within budget.

Their day-to-day work may include:

  • managing costs and budgeting
  • issuing contracts
  • setting up a project team
  • liasing with the creative team
  • negotiating with clients and suppliers
  • scoping projects
  • presenting to clients.

They may be the point of contact between clients and the studio or agency. They are likely to spend time troubleshooting and problem-solving.

The project manager is also responsible for project documentation. In some organisations, studio administration staff may assist with documentation and admin work.

In a large organisation, there may be a project management team. The project manager may supervise junior project staff or studio administrators. In a smaller agency, the project manager role may be combined with account manager.

Depending on the organisation of the studio, design department or agency, they may work closely with the studio manager, creative director and account managers.

What is the work like?

Some project managers are freelance. They have wide experience and have built up a reputation. They usually work on short-term contracts for agencies or businesses.

The work may involve travel to meetings with clients. International projects may involve travel overseas.

Although the work is based on normal office hours, Monday to Friday, you may be expected to long hours to ensure that projects are completed.

How do I become a project manager?

You need to have good business skills and good interpersonal skills. In addition, employers will expect you to be able to:

Project designers are not usually involved in the creative process.

  • manage budgets
  • organise your time well
  • work under pressure
  • motivate and lead
  • understand the creative process.

You will be expected to keep up-to-date with business trends in the design world and be aware of the activities of your company’s competitors.

Qualifications and training

There is no set entry route, but all project managers need a lot of experience working on projects on the design world.

Not all design project managers have qualification in design, but they need a good understanding of the design process. Many started their design career as a graphic designer, brand designer or packaging designer, for example.

Many project managers have a degree or similar level qualification. This may be in a design subject such as:

  • Graphic Design
  • Visual Communication
  • Graphic Communication
  • Multimedia Graphics.

Others might have worked in a closely-related field, such as marketing or brand strategy. They may also have a degree.

Degree entry routes

There are Design degrees at many universities across the UK. The UCAS website lists all courses. D&Ad also has information.

For a degree, you usually need at least two A levels or equivalent. Some design degree courses may also ask for a Foundation Diploma. This is a one-year course offered by many colleges and some universities.

Some project managers have a qualification in project management, such as PRINCE2 or those from the Association for Project Management.

Career development

If you start in a junior role, in design or marketing for example, you could become involved in different projects to gain experience.

As you become more senior, you can take on bigger and more prestigious projects. You can start to take the lead on projects until you have enough experience to apply for project management jobs. You may have to change employers to widen your experience and work on different projects.

How much can I earn?

A project manager in an agency may start on £30,000. This could rise to £50,000 or more for an experienced project manager.

A freelance project manager is paid on a daily rate, for the days they work. They could earn up to £250 a day.


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