The European Commission has now published its InnoBarometer, its annual survey into business innovation. For the first time, it has included a question on the use of design. Some 14,118 companies were surveyed in February, from the 28 EU member states, USA and Switzerland, with 500 responses coming from the UK.

Companies were asked: "Which of the following statements best describes the activities of your company with regard to design?” with a choice from the following six options:

  • Design is a central element in the company's strategy;
  • Design is an integral, but not central element of development work in the company;
  • Design is used as last finish, enhancing the appearance and attractiveness of the final product;
  • The company does not work systematically with design;
  • Design is not used in the company;
  • Don’t know

The results

22% of UK businesses say that design is a central element to their strategy, and a further 20% say that design is an integral part of development work. The British lead the Northern European countries in the strategic use of design, ahead of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

The research shows a strong link between companies who innovate and use design. In addition, companies whose turnover has increased are more likely to say they use design than those whose profits have decreased, reflecting previous studies into the financial benefits of investing in design, including our Leading Business by Design report

Attitudes to design vary widely in EU28 

The results are interesting but also potentially pose some questions about how the world ‘design' is understood differently in the EU28.

The good news is that more than six in ten companies use design in some way. 13% say design is a central element to company strategy, while 18% say design is an integral but not central element of development work. Disappointingly, the most common response by 38% of companies is that design is not used - this compares to 49% of respondents in the USA who say they do not use design.

According to the responses, the Greeks, followed by the Cypriots, say they are most likely to use design in a company’s strategy - 48% and 41% respectively - compared to 22% in the UK. However, just 4% of companies in Slovenia and 5% in Latvia say design is central to strategy.  

There are also interesting differences in responses based on the size of the company - the larger the company, the more likely it is to say design is central to their business. Companies in the primary industry sector (eg electricity, water construction) are most likely to say they don’t use design, but manufacturing companies are more likely to say design is integral to their work. This may be linked to the degree in which companies deal directly with the consumer and therefore see the more immediate and obvious benefits of design.  

The age of the company also seems to be a factor, with newer companies more likely to use design, possibly due to the role digital design is now playing in startups. 

The results illustrate how differently design is perceived across the EU. This highlights the critical role that our Design for Europe programme has to play in increasing awareness of the benefits of design innovation in business. This is particularly necessary for smaller companies, where the benefits of design may not be immediately obvious.

More in-depth Design Council data on the Design Economy in the UK will be announced at the Global Investment Conference on 17 September – watch this space.

For the full results and company breakdown, see the full innobarometer report  

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