Groceries illustration, Juliana Futter

As with any city, London life isn’t all rosy. The streets, believe it or not, are neither paved with gold, nor Dickensian urchins. In this piece, we look at the less appealing sides of the English capital for those designers considering making the move.

Cost of Living

Compared to many cities, London is an expensive place to live. Aside from high rents and housing prices (more on that below), transport is pricey and living costs can be high. However, a few years in the smoke will make you realize it needn’t always be this way: supermarkets are cheap, so cooking and drinking at home is always an affordable option. While some pubs are extortionate, there are plenty that are not, if you know where to find them. (And there are resources out there to help you discover them.)

The infographic below shows figures from Numbeo detailing the average prices of common expenses in London.

Infographic by Robert Ballard showing the cost of living in London

Supermarket Prices (figures also from Numbeo)

  • Milk (regular), (1 liter) £0.91 (~$1.25)
  • Loaf of fresh white bread (500g) £1.02 (~$1.50)
  • Local cheese (1kg) £6.04 (~$8.50)
  • Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless), (1kg) £6.72 (~$9.50)
  • Beef round (1kg) (or equivalent back leg red meat) £9.05 (~$12.50)
  • Apples (1kg) £1.94 (~$3)
  • Tomato (1kg) £1.97 (~$3)
  • Potato (1kg) £1.22 (~$2)
  • Onion (1kg) £1.07 (~$1.50)
  • Imported beer (0.33 liter bottle) £1.85 (~$2.50)
  • Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro  £9.50 (~$13)


Costs to Rent Office Space in London

Gordon Reid, Cost to Rent Office Space in London infographic

Costs to Rent a Room in London Boroughs

Infographic by Gordon Reid showing cost to rent a room in London

Median monthly rent for a studio apartment in London, recorded between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2016:

Infographic showing cost to rent a London studio apartment, by Gordon Reid,

Commute Hell


Getting around London is notoriously hellish. If you’re lucky enough to be able to walk to work, then amazing; but most are not. Cycling can be a great way to get around the city: it’s cheap, it’s healthy and it’s inevitably quicker than taking the tube or a bus. But it’s not without its dangers—according to Cycling Weekly, over 900 cyclists were injured in hit-and-run incidents in London in 2016.

It’s sort of a lose-lose situation. City Am reports that the capital’s workers spend 107 hours (around a week in total) every year traveling, making it by far the worst commute in the country, according to the latest National Travel Survey. The average London commute is only 7.9 miles, it just takes ages to get anywhere.


With a city that houses a lot of agencies, there’s going to be a lot of competition for client work. The flip side of course is that there’s also a hell of a lot of client work out there, and a lot of opportunities to network.

According to freelance designer Gordon Reid, the competition in the city isn’t really a problem if you have the right attitude. “I often find you don’t really ever notice (or bother yourself with) the competition until the pitch is all over with and the work has hopefully been bought,” he says. “Usually there’s such little time you just have to get your head down, engross yourself in the work and get it out there.”

He adds, “I definitely talk about pitches to other designers and creatives though. I believe it’s a really positive step to do so, if only to learn how others have approached pitches, how the clients treated the creatives, whether they’ve got contracts in place or actually charged money for their time on the pitch. I think it’s always beneficial to talk about these sort of things.”

Fellow freelancer Sarah Boris agrees that being open about the competitive sides of the London design scene is the way forward. “It’s something we talk about with other designers,” she says. “When I worked at the ICA, they received daily applications from hugely talented design studios. This always made me feel threatened, so I just worked harder to make sure I delivered the best possible work. It’s a very competitive environment and it’s often likely you will be considered alongside studios you know—sometimes your friends—for the same project. It is also likely that studios you know will be in contact with your clients and try to get work with them. It’s part of the game. It’s important to be aware of it and essential to remain focused on the work you love doing.”

Having grown up in France and the U.S., Boris sees this as not just a London-centric issue. “I discovered Paris is very competitive, too, from having spoken with studios based there,” says Boris. “Studios from all around France will often apply for the same project. The latest tender put out by the art center Centre Pompidou attracted over 64 studio applications.”

So perhaps this tight-knit group of designers isn’t really a “London” thing, but a “design” thing. The design industry is very, very small, even on a global level. “Be careful who you piss off,” says Simon Manchipp, founder and executive strategic creative director of SomeOne. “Be it in London or Sydney, all the design companies are acutely aware of who’s likely to be on your pitch list. Generally, that’s for two reasons: one, if you know who’s on the list you can play to their weaknesses, and your strengths. And secondly, it’s fun! It’s always a hot topic at designer meetups. Who’s doing what with who. (And who won).”