On 19 December 2014, Design Council marked its 70th birthday. Not content with a little party, throughout 2015 we’ve been celebrating the last seven decades of championing British design. The last 12 months proved to be pivotal for both Design Council and British design itself.

Our largest annual event, the Leading Business by Design Summit returned, this time with a focus on design in high value manufacturing. Held in Birmingham on a balmy day in June, the Summit brought together thought-leaders, design innovators and industry giants to learn from each other, explore our latest research and start new, symbiotic relationships.


Speakers from Rolls-Royce, Hydro Systems and GKN Land Systems discuss how design can create competitive edge in supply chains

British manufacturing is on the verge of taking another giant stride into the future. As we head towards ‘Industry 4.0’, design will prove itself to be a powerful tool and should ensure our manufacturing stays one step ahead of the rest of the world. During this period of change, Design Council will continue to demonstrate to businesses how design can help them innovate and boost productivity.

We also went ‘back to our roots’ with the introduction of a new product innovation accelerator and fund – Design Council Spark. We were looking for product prototypes or ideas that demonstrated market need, business viability and the technical feasibility to be developed within 20 weeks – all with the aim of sparking the next generation of product inventors in the UK.


We received more than 300 entries to the inaugural Spark Innovation competition

We’re delighted that entries were submitted from all over the UK, with almost the same amount from entrants aged over 55 as there were from under-25s. Eight winning teams were selected from more than 330 entries.

This winter, we teamed up with Arthritis Research UK for Spark II. We smashed all of our targets for entries, with them teeming in from all over the UK, and having had a sneak-peek at some of the entries, it promises to be just as successful as the first time round – if not more.

In September we partnered with MedCity and AXA PPP healthcare to launch MedTechSouthEast. This new competition gave the south-east of England’s outstanding innovators the chance to gain the knowledge, skills and experience to successfully progress their ideas and push them towards the market. The competition was designed to identify and develop the next generation of user-centred, non-invasive medical technology. We had some fascinating entries, and the ten winning ventures are now going through what is a really unique kind of accelerator.


John Mathers opens the MedTechSouthEast finalists' pitching event at the Royal College of General Practitioners

Design for Europe, one of Design Council’s major success stories of recent times, hit all of its targets a full year ahead of schedule this month. The EU-funded programme, made up of a consortium of 14 partner organisations, was set up to promote design and innovation in European business, public services and policymaking. The emphasis is now on how we can build on this beyond the funding phase, and to use the final year to build an engaged and vibrant community across the whole of Europe.

2015 also saw the release of one of the most significant pieces of research in Design Council’s history. The Design Economy is the first study to consider the contribution and value of design across the whole UK economy, rather than as a single industry.

The government-endorsed report shows 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. This video explains some of the headline statistics from the report.

The figures speak for themselves – but in layman’s terms: 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. Design Council will continue to support organisations to use design, driving up productivity across all areas of the country and in sectors where its full potential is yet to be realised.

These headline statistics were announced at a fantastic event at the Global Investment Conference, while the full report was debuted at a House of Commons reception in October, where we had the opportunity to engage with MPs and their advisers. The report prompted some fantastic coverage from all over the media landscape, including this piece from Nigel Carrington in the Huffington Post, this in the Manufacturer and this write-up in New York’s Quartz magazine. It shows how design is increasingly regarded as vitally important for the global economy.


A packed Lancaster House hears new statistics on the Design Economy's impact on the UK

Indeed, British design is in rude health. We lead Northern Europe in the use of strategic design, with not only the largest design sector in Europe, but the second largest in the entire world.

That’s why Design Council’s role is more relevant than ever. Baseline investment in design is required to ensure that Britain maintains – and nurtures – its leading international role in design, arts and culture. We will continue to cultivate the pipeline of high-quality designers, through programmes such as Design Academy, aimed at improving the skills of our design graduates as well as helping businesses to understand the power of design investment.


Students from Manchester School of Art on their first day of the Design Academy programme

In early 2016, we’ll be delivering Design Academy to a further five universities: Portsmouth University, Norwich University of the Arts, Nottingham Trent University, University of Sunderland and University of the Arts. We’re getting more great industry insights lined up from key players at IBM, Policy Lab, Skype, NHS and more – with the hope of securing some amazing paid internships for our Design Academy alumni.

We’ll be building and learning from successful delivery of the programme at Manchester School of Art in November. The head of the design school there recently commented: “We – and importantly the students – have found the Design Academy project energising and directional for us. There already has been a big impact of the design academy thinking not only for our students but also for our staff.”

Design in the Public Sector, our latest programme designed to empower public servants, has just been evaluated after its first 18 months. The appraisal confirmed that a key outcome of the programme has been helping staff in public services reframe the challenge they are trying to address, and formulating new solutions for their challenges using design thinking techniques.

The programme will continue throughout 2016. If you are interested in being part of the next cohort, apply to attend the launch event in Birmingham on 8 January. Follow this link for further information and to register.

Regional growth in cities remains vital to rebalancing the UK economy. As the devolution agenda continues, we will develop our training programmes to spread the use of strategic design in public services, business and the built environment across the country.

Design Council Cabe will look to grow its comprehensive design service for city authorities. This important programme will continue to bring together local knowledge and world-class expertise to deliver high-quality, prosperous places and well-designed, sustainable communities for all.

As we move into 2016, we will see a few changes in our makeup. Notably, 150 new Built Environment Experts are currently being inducted into Design Council Cabe’s ranks. This brings the network to a total of 400 design experts, the largest and most skilled group of its kind in the country. The BEEs will work closely with Design Council Cabe to champion design in the built environment and beyond.

Meanwhile, three new trustees have joined our board, who will formally start in February 2016. They are product and industrial designer Paul Priestman (PriestmanGoode), design educator Dale Harrow (Royal College of Art) and early-stage technology company mentor and investor, Dr Andrew Mackintosh. They join the 15 current board members who ensure that we are well-governed and support us in becoming a world-class, self-sustaining and enterprising charity.

Seven decades after our foundation, Design Council continues to live by the values set out at its inception – to champion great design that improves Britain, improves lives and makes things better. 

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