Design Council has commissioned two major pieces of research to further shine a light on the dark matter and energy of design, to better evidence the contribution it makes to the UK economy. Our Research and Evaluation Manager, Stephen Miller, explains more.

Understanding design can sometimes feel like quantum mechanics. Much like the dark matter and energy which drives the expansion of the universe, good design and the process behind it can be invisible. I would argue that more is unknown than is known about how design creates the impact it does, and I'm not alone in saying this. Dan Hill, Associate Director at Arup, has also drawn comparisons between design and dark matter, arguing that there are invisible but essential forces - such as national policy or business model or organisational culture - involved in the design and delivery of every product or service. He argues that "without addressing [the] dark matter [of design], and without attempting to reshape it, we are simply producing interventions or installations or popups that attempt to skirt around the system." 

At Design Council, we've set ourselves a challenge to address this head on - making the value and impact design more visible. We know that design and design led thinking contributes to systemic transformation, whether in the development of a product or service, increasing productivity, driving innovation or responding to societal challenges. Yet do we truly understand why or how? 

With the UK government looking for systemic solutions to raise productivity... in the wake of the EU referendum result, there has never been a more pertinent time to better measure and demonstrate the value of design

In an era where science led innovation is increasingly recognised over design, we begin a series of research studies to consider the wider value and impact of design on the UK economy, shining a light on the corners of the economy where design's value is often unnotices and thereby, underused. 

To do this we need to start by addressing the unanswered questions about how and why design has the impact it does, where it is effective and how it can be better used. 

As such, we have just commissioned two ambitious research projects. The first attempts to define and map design-led innovation across the UK, while the second will inverstigate both the supply of, and demand for, design skills which can aid innovation and productivity in the UK. 

Project 1 - Defining and mapping design-led innovation

The UK has transitioned from an economy powered by might and machine to one increasingly reliant on services and technology. Design has played a key role in these developments, and in recent years there has been much talk of ‘design-led innovation’. Yet, while the term is much used by practitioners and policymakers (and by us at Design Council), the lack of a clear definition means we can never be certain that everyone is talking about the same thing, or what precise activity it refers to. This research seeks to rectify that.

Our new research programme seeks to produce a quantitative framework for defining and measuring ‘design-led innovation’.

Our new research programme seeks to produce a quantitative framework for defining and measuring ‘design-led innovation’. The research will consoldiate existing evidence to better define design-led innovation, consulting with key stakeholders across the design economy and beyond. It will help us better understand the factors which foster design-led innovation, and measure these spatially. We want to know which areas of the UK are using design to innovate and those which could do with further support. 

Project 2 - Measuring how design skills contribute to productivity and innovation

Our second major research programme seeks to get under the skin of some of the findings from last year’s Design Economy research, which used Standard Occupational Classification codes (SOC codes) to identify the extent of design activity happening across the economy. This research found that design contributes £71.7bn to the UK economy, with workers with a design element to their work 41% more productive than the UK average.

We have developed a research programme investigating both the supply of, and demand for, design skills which can aid innovation and productivity in the UK.

We are now seeking to better explore what is driving this economic performance. As such we have developed a research programme investigating both the supply of, and demand for, design skills which can aid innovation and productivity in the UK.

In the next stage of this research we ultimately wish to answer a range of questions which sit underneath four broad themes: 

  • The Skills associated with Design Occupations
  • The Value of Design Skills to UK Industry
  • Understanding the demand and supply of skills within the Design Economy
  • The Future of Design skills

There has long been an internationally agreed standard for defining occupations (SOC codes), and an inherent link between skills and occupations; workers need skills to carry out occupational roles. However, they also need knowledge, aptitudes, tools, attitudes and behaviours. Despite this, few if any UK secondary data sources prvide an assessment of the skills required by occupations, potentially impacting upon the quality of current data used by business and decision makers when deciding on education training priorities across the UK. 

Through a scoping study we have idetified the US Labour Department's O*NET database as an alternative framework to develop a taxonomy of skills associated with UK design. The O*NET system is a promising source for this research, since it includes over 30 design occupations, with associated set of skills and other descriptors. 

By using O*NET we believe we cannot only identify those skills common across all design occupations but also those that are common across a sub-set of these occupations. TBR will also be compairng the skills profiles of design occupations to non-design occupations, thereby enabling us to classify the design intensity of all occupations across the economy, further highlighting the value and contribution of design. We are aiming to publish the taxonomy in May 2017. 

What’s coming up?

This year the UK will begin the process of exiting the European Union, as well as launching an Industrial Strategy seeking to turnaround a decade of stagnating productivity. Now is the time to be bold and ambitious in our thinking about design and the role it can play in shaping the country's future. As such we are seeing this as the start of a longer term project - much like the hunt to explain dark matter itself! 

If you would like to get involved in these projects, or have thoughts and comments you think will help us in better evidencing the value and impact of design, we're keen to hear from you!

As part of our research, we'd welcome your views on what design-led innovation means to you

The deadline for responses is 15th February, with the research findings to be published in April 2017. 

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News & opinion

New research shows design contributes £71.7bn to UK economy We've launched our new findings on the design economy, illustrating the full impact of the £71.7bn of value that design contributes to the UK. We've launched our new findings on the design economy, illustrating the full impact of the £71.7bn that design contributes to the UK.

News — 22/10/2015