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Design and designers key to achieving economic prosperity, report concludes

By Andrew Sansom 22 Jul 2022 0

The Design Council has published a new report demonstrating the economic value of design to the UK.

The aim of the research contained in the report, ‘Design Economy: People, Places and Economic Value’, is to show the economic, social and environmental value of design in the UK and to advocate for the conditions needed for good design to thrive across the country.

Subsequent research will be published in the coming months analysing the social and environmental impacts of designers and people using design skills.

The research is based on a methodology developed by University of the Arts London (UAL) Social Design Institute (SDI) and BOP Consulting. A scoping study from January to June 2021 considered the key issues that Design Council should explore and proposed an inclusive research and evaluation methodology that could capture the wide-ranging value of design – moving beyond only the economic to include also the social and environmental impact.

“This is the most recent assessment of how design contributes to the UK economy,” said Professor Lucy Kimbell, director of the UAL Social Design Institute. “It shows the vital role that designers and people using design skills play in creating economic prosperity around the UK and identifies the key challenges facing the sector – from reduced exports, to persistent gender inequalities within the design workforce, to a reduction in the numbers of students studying design at GCSE.”

Among its findings, the research found that the design economy, which employed 1.97 million people in 2020, is growing at twice the UK average, contributing £97.4bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy.

The report focuses on six key pillars, including: economic growth; regional prosperity; digital innovation; exports; skills for the future; and diversity in the sector.

Digital design continues to supercharge the future of the design industry, with roles such as user experience, website development, app design, video game creation, and other forms of digital production and publishing growing by 138 per cent in recent years – a rate of growth faster than both the design sector and the wider economy.

In 2019, the design sector accounted for more than £70bn in exports, including work commissioned for overseas projects from the UK. And interestingly, 77 per cent of all designers work in non-design sectors, such as finance, retail and construction.

But faced with the climate and biodiversity emergencies, the scale of what the UK needs to design – and redesign –  to achieve net-zero targets by 2050 is immense, says the report. To play a key part in achieving net zero, investment in education and the workforce will be paramount, it argues. Yet, worryingly, statistics across the UK show that entries to Design and Technology GCSE courses have fallen by 68 per cent.

The Design Council would therefore like to see reforms to the school curriculum, warning that without diverse career pathways, the design sector is under future threat.

“Design should be at the heart of driving jobs, skills and regional prosperity across the UK,” said Andy Haldane, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts and chair of the Levelling-Up Commission. “Designers bring immense value to the places they are a part of, be it in working with communities to shape our public spaces and services, creating affordable and good-quality homes, or in ensuring that our built environment and transport infrastructure are regenerative and benefit our planet.”

Chief executive of the Design Council Minnie Moll added: “We want as many people as possible, from the design community to design commissioners, the business sector to government, to really engage with the big messages from the research and recognise that design is a powerful tool to be used right now.”

View the full report and executive summary here and the six scoping papers outlining the research carried out by the UAL Social Design Institute and BOP Consulting here.