In 2013, the design economy generated £71.7bn in gross value added (GVA), equivalent to 7.2% of total GVA.

The Design Economy report, 2015

Why it matters

The Design Economy report explores the contribution by designers working in both design-specific and non-design industries to the UK economy. This definition, which Design Council calls the ‘design economy’, more accurately represents the true value of design. 

Headline numbers

  • 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. 
  • Approximately 580,000 people are directly employed in the UK’s design industries, while a further 1 million designers work across the economy in non-design industries.
  • This makes the design economy equivalent to the ninth biggest employer in the UK.

"The design economy is creating thousands of jobs, exponentially improving British export markets and contributing billions to our economy. It is vital that it is recognised and supported in order for this growth to continue.

"That’s why Design Council’s role is more relevant than ever. We will continue to support organisations to use design, driving up productivity across areas of the country and in sectors where its full potential is yet to be fulfilled." - John Mathers, Design Council Chief Executive

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



1. Why did you conduct this research?

We knew from experience that design is commonly used to boost growth in businesses in the wider economy beyond the creative industries, so undertook this research to articulate the true scale and value of design in the UK.

2. Who conducted the research?

Trends Business Research independently conducted the majority of the economic research using data from the Office for National Statistics. BOP Research conducted internal comparisons of the UK’s export and design registration figures. Additional desk top research was conducted by Design Council to complement this work, including using EU InnoBarometer data to measure business use of design across Europe. 

3. Where did the data come from?

The majority of the data featured in the report comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). We also used data from the UN and the World Intellectual Property Organisation for international comparisons.

4. What time period does your data refer to? 

The research used the most up-to-date data available, and figures quoted in the report cover the period 2008-2014.

5. How did you define ‘design’? 

For this research we define design as ‘the creation of a proposition in a medium, using tools as part of a process’.

6. What is ‘the design economy’?

The Design Economy includes the value contributed not only by designers working in design industries (eg, digital design), but that of other roles in design industries (eg, administration, finance, distribution) as well as the large number of designers that are working in other sectors across the UK economy (eg, aerospace, finance, retail).

7. What do you mean by ‘design intensive’?

As part of the research we identified which industries can be classified as ‘design-intensive’. To do this required two steps:

  • Identifying the jobs designers do within ONS data
  • Industries where 30% or more of the occupations within it are identified as ‘designers’ is considered to be a ‘design-intensive’ industry. All employment within a design industry is included in the analysis, on the basis that those employed in non-design roles will be supporting the core design function.

8. What do you mean by ‘design active’ firms?

Design-active firms are those that invest in and use design strategically, though don’t necessarily have a large proportion of designers in their workforce.

9. Who’s not been included in your research?

Our research is only concerned with occupations which are characterised by their use of design, or industries characterised by their use of design. Occupations which do not have a design-element and are not in a design industry, are excluded from our analysis, e.g. database administrators, plumbers etc. 

10. How did you calculate ‘gross value added’?

Our research uses ‘Approximate Gross Value Added’ (aGVA). aGVA covers the UK Non-Financial Business Economy, and the Non-Financial Business Economy excludes public expenditure. We have used aGVA as it is the only data available at sufficient levels of industrial detail to be able to analyse design industries i.e. at four digit Standard Industrial Classifications. This means the figures compare like for like the design aGVA and national aGVA.  

11. How did you calculate the value of exports?

To calculate exports, our research uses two key data sources - The International Trade in Service (ITIS) survey by the Office for National Statistics, and the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade).

12. Why are your figures different from other research I’ve seen recently?

The Design Economy uses the same data sources as the Creative Industries Economic Estimates and a similar methodology. However the key differences with reports on the creative industries include:  

  • Recent reports on the creative industries use a different definition of design, using just one Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code (‘product, graphic and fashion’). The Design Economy applies a broader definition of design, to include 10 SIC codes, such as architecture and the built environment, crafts, and digital, among others. As a result, we found nearly one third of the roles in the design economy are outside of the creative industries.  
  • In their recent report on the creative industries in London, the GLA have focused upon one particular region and adapted their choice of data sources and methodology accordingly. It was not possible in our research to apply the same level of detail to every region of the UK, and given that the proportion of GVA attributable to the workforce is around 99%, not essential for our purposes.
  • Other reports such as that by the Greater London Authority use Gross Value Added (GVA) to measure economic contribution and productivity. The Design Economy uses Approximate Gross Value Added (aGVA), which for our purposes provides more consistent coverage at the national level and amongst our sectors of interest.

13. What is the distinction between the UK and GB?

Most of the findings (eg, GVA, Exports, and Productivity etc) refer to UK data. The majority of the ‘design clusters’ and other geographic data is restricted to Great Britain. The data interactives will refer to Great Britain. 

14. How do my contacts get a copy if not at the launch event?

The full report is available on Amazon for £15.