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The business of design in innovation

Posted on 08/11/2016

Design Council report on the UK design economy outlines the design industry's true impact and value across the whole of the UK economy.

Design Council report outlines the extent and contribution of the UK design economy.

It’s shaping up to be a good autumn if you follow trends in business innovation. The UK, US and Europe have all generated significant column inches on how successful businesses have designed their way to market rewards.

The Design Council leads the charge, launching a timely and welcome report which for the first time outlines the extent and contribution of the UK design economy. The UK has long been recognised as a world leader in design but when it has previously come to measure that industry, figures have focused on a narrow slice of ‘traditional’ design industries. This new report reveals the extent of ‘design intense’ activity across the whole of the UK economy, covering from architecture to gaming, IT to engineering.

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The headline findings of The Design Economy show that in 2013, the design economy generated £71.7bn in gross value added (GVA), equivalent to 7.2% of total GVA. In the period between 2009-2013, the design economy GVA increased by 27.9%, compared to 18.1% across the UK economy as a whole. The design economy is also adding jobs at more than three times the national average with 1.6m people (5% of the UK workforce) employed across the design economy as of 2014.

And what does this mean? It means re-setting an image that design is a fashionable vocation. Design is an essential driver of the UK economy. Indeed the figures demonstrate that design’s contribution to the economy has grown at a faster rate than the UK average.

Last month, the front page of respected journal the Harvard Business Review led with ‘The Evolution of Design Thinking’: “It’s no longer just for products. Executives are using this approach to devise strategy and manage change… which is in large part a response to the increasing complexity of modern technology and modern business. Design helps people to make sense of complexity because we need interactions with technologies and other complex systems to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable.”

And it continues that embracing design opportunities isn’t limited to large brand-name corporations: “the big strategy-consulting firms are also gearing up for this new world, often by acquiring leading providers of design services. In the past few years, Deloitte acquired Doblin, Accenture acquired Fjord, and McKinsey acquired Lunar.”In the same period, the EU published its annual survey on business innovation across 28 member states and the US. This year for the first time the InnoBarometer included a question on the use of design. Some 14,118 companies were surveyed in February, from the 28 EU member states, USA and Switzerland. It shows a strong link between companies who innovate and use design. Companies whose turnover has increased are more likely to say they use design than those whose profits have decreased, reflecting previous studies into the financial benefits of investing in design

Specifically for the UK, 22% of businesses say that design is a central element to their strategy, and a further 20% say that design is an integral part of development work. Britain leads the Northern European countries in the strategic use of design, ahead of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

So the view from both home and internationally is both a cause for celebration and also a massive reality check. There is a clear competitive advantage for businesses across all technology sectors in the UK to embrace the opportunities to work with our world leading design and creative sectors.

It begs the question, are you using this resource to help business grow too?

The executive summary PDF of The Design Economy is available here.

Dr Edward Hobson – Knowledge Transfer Manager, Design