Today’s publication of the Industrial Strategy has made clear the government’s commitment to improve productivity and create better, high-paying jobs across the country. We welcome that the role and importance of design has been recognised to the UK’s future economy.

For too long design has been overlooked in policy, education, business and public services. Understood in certain professions – from architecture to product, branding, and fashion – but rarely understood as core to instigating innovation and modern industrial growth.

This is changing. Our 2015 report made clear that the design economy contributes £71.7bn in GVA when designers working across industries and outside traditionally understood design sectors were factored in - from banking to tech and advanced manufacturing to aerospace. It further found that designers were more productive than the average worker.

Ministers and officials have worked hard to incorporate the wide variety of submissions received over the summer.  Today sees investment in key sectors, a push towards more balanced growth and policy recognition that infrastructure, place and skills go hand in hand with industrial growth. The five principles of the industrial strategy, ‘people, business, innovation, places, and infrastructure’ reflect the five core principles that we outlined in our response to the Green Paper, ‘people, ideas, place, skills and sector’. And it’s a real step forward that the value of creative industries is recognised throughout the strategy.

However, looking beyond the creative industries, design has a much more pivotal role to play in all the four ‘Grand Challenges’ the government set out today. Innovation is often designed – whether as a service, a product or a system and it is positive to see the language of design used throughout the strategy. Good design puts people first. It uses creativity to solve problems, challenge current thinking and change lives, and it is being used to drive economic growth and social change across the world. Designers are at the forefront of change. Working to understand what people need and want to make life better – whether that’s a smartphone, a new product supporting people in later life, driverless cars, or a transformed health and social care system. The skills that design future products and services are resilient to challenges from automation by driving change.

Yet, for all the positive foundations, design is still absent from practical policy announcements and the additional investments made to boost future economic growth. Last week’s Budget failed to mention design at all. Whilst today’s strategy opens the door to design it does not incorporate design across R&D infrastructure, open tax incentives for business to use design, or address the urgent need for design skills across our economy by incorporating design into new T-Levels or wider STEM subjects.

Given what we know about stagnant productivity levels it’s astounding to many of us that the value of design is not recognised. At Design Council, we have asked searching questions about why this has happened. Why aren’t Ministers turning to design, given what we know about the productivity challenge, technological revolution and the huge potential of design to shift the sands?

Is the problem in its actual success? Is it almost too diverse for a tangible announcement? Does design’s high performance mean it isn’t on the radar because it’s viewed as something we do well and so doesn’t require the support that other sectors need, at a time of limited government resources?

Or is design simply too confusing – is it a product, a process or a service? Why is it so relevant to innovation? It’s hard to establish this into a soundbite or a simple anecdote. And it’s hard to flow into speeches and showpiece investment announcements. How does design ‘save’ jobs? How can design revive a sector? If artificial intelligence and coding is the future shouldn’t we invest there? It is much easier to understand the importance of science, maths, and engineering. It’s much more difficult to understand the collective value of a skillset or processes that drive innovation and will more likely make investments a success. For every £1 invested in design, businesses gain £4 in net operating profits, £20 in net turnover and £5 in net exports

So how do we address this?

Design Council commissioned independent research to better understand the value of design to the UK economy. Next month we will be publishing an extensive study on design skills* and their prevalence and impact on growth in the UK. The results are compelling and will be difficult to ignore. But we cannot rely on the strength of our evidence to change the story. We have to tell and sell the story.

And that’s why we will be unashamedly talking about the importance of our research over the coming months.  Why? Because design really can be a gamechanger for growth. And design can change lives for the better every day. 

If we embed design in the way we think, work and educate now we will have a greater chance of tackling the challenges of low productivity and low growth. We will be able to connect the wider challenges of developing places that support a thriving economy not just in London and the South East, but for all of us. Places that are inclusive, healthy and connected. Places people want to live, work and interact. Places that are at the forefront of change and not simply responding to it or beaten by it.

Future work and global economies are people-led and service-orientated, driven by knowledge and technology. This cannot just be for the privileged few. Automation is here, so it’s too late to fear it or bemoan it. We have to embrace it by equipping all of us with the skills and opportunities to respond to change. The National Retraining Partnership is probably the most significant announcement today. It is the type of collaboration required to reskill the current workforce for the fourth industrial revolution and, as the pilot begins to take shape, it is vital that design skills are incorporated into its work.

This is why design and creativity has to be front and centre of an industrial strategy – no longer boxed off as “nice to have” or, “don’t really need to think about that”. Today was a good start – now let’s make decisions that not only respond to now but change the way we live our lives for the rest of the century. It is possible. Policy must be bold and take decisions that change the way we learn, upskill and deliver innovation right across workplaces up and down the country. Then we will have an industrial strategy that equips us all for the future. Let’s do that.

*Contact Design Council on 020 7420 5284 to discuss the upcoming Skills Research being published on December 6, 2017.

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