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40% of UK businesses are missing out on the opportunity to become more productive through design

Posted on 06/07/2018

The Design Council have just published their Design Economy 2018 report.

The Design Council have just published their Design Economy 2018 report. It provides a snapshot of the contribution of design to the UK economy. If you don’t want to know the score, look away from the screen now…

Around 40% of UK companies are missing out on the opportunity to make their business more productive through using design. Across the country some regions are disproportionately affected by this disconnect.

The headline figures on the other hand are really positive. The design economy generated £85.2bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK in 2016. This represents 7% of UK GVA and equivalent to the size of the distribution, transport, accommodation and food sectors. This value has grown 10% in the last three years, outstripping the UK growth rate of 7%.

Looking underneath the headlines, the report includes a survey of 1000 UK businesses, which reveals that the presence of design activity in a business is the one of the top three drivers of innovation alongside R&D spend and staff.

Design is a good thing: now let’s return to the opportunity. There is a considerable performance gap and disconnect between the potential that exists for companies to do better business through using design and the reality of making that happen. With the UK needing to address its productivity gap, introducing ways of helping companies generate greater value from their activities is critical.

Design Economy 2018 recommends incentivising the financial considerations of investing in design. This is an interesting one as it is addresses one of the principal barriers to entry for company. But money, while important, can sometimes be an excuse rather than reason for not investing. You don’t often hear businesses saying “We really want to invest in an accountant but we can’t afford it”.

Often the answer is understanding those businesses’ needs first and seeing what challenges and opportunities they are facing. At Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), we work across the UK connecting businesses in all sectors with the right sorts of designers to be able to address those particular needs.

We’ve seen some really fantastic collaborations, especially some which were funded through Innovate UK’s Design Foundations competition. These have demonstrated the tangible value of using design to de-risk the R&D process, which is especially vital for smaller businesses as they navigate market entry.

We know that design works, we’ve got the insights from individual company commendations and now fresh national evidence. As an innovation network and more broadly as a suite of design industries, we have to look meaningfully into the sectors and regions which offer new the next market opportunities for using design and help those companies grow and propel the UK forwards.

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