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Design Council launches 'Designing a future economy' report

Design Council launches 'Designing a future economy' report

6 December 2017

Today Design Council published ‘Designing a Future Economy: Developing design skills for productivity and innovation’. A year in the making, this comprehensive report is the first time that the economic value of design skills to the UK economy has been measured so comprehensively. The research finds that design skills are vital to UK productivity, but that at the same time businesses face a growing skills gap.

It’s time to pay attention to the value of design

The report builds on our 2015 report The Design Economy, which was the first time design had been systematically mapped, coded and measured across the UK economy. It found that UK design provides significant economic value generating billions in gross value added (GVA) and exports. However, perhaps an even more significant finding was the discovery of the scale of UK design.

Design Council has always understood that designers work in a wide variety of businesses, from automotive to aerospace. Yet the exact scale and contribution of designers working outside traditional design businesses had not been measured before. This greatly de-valued design. So much so that when researchers measured designers working outside the design industry they discovered this made up the largest proportion of people working in UK design and crucially, that designers were more productive than the average UK worker.

So design is hugely important to the UK economy, and designers are not just restricted to creative industries but operating across industries and contributing significantly to improving productivity.

We needed to find out more. What is it about designers that make them more productive? Are design occupations fit for the future? Will they thrive in the fourth industrial revolution or, are they at risk of automation? Do non-designers use design?

To answer these questions we have focussed on design skills. We know that skills are crucial to economic performance, we know that skills are at the forefront of the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution and we needed to understand what design skills will contribute.


Designing a Future Economy finds that design skills are used across the economy, not just by designers. Crucially designers and people using design skills are able to mix the cognitive abilities they have learnt, such as visualisation or problem solving, with the technical abilities they require for their job, such as coding or drawing. Underpinning all the skills identified across the occupations we mapped (from architect to digital designer) is knowledge of design. This combination of knowledge, technical and interpersonal will become more and more essential in the future economy. Design skills are 21st century skills.

And they are vital to business today. The research finds that design skills are important in the day-to-day work of over 2.5 million people in the UK, delivering high-value returns to the economy. In total, people using design skills contribute £209 billion to the UK economy and are 47% more productive that the average UK worker, delivering almost £10 extra output per hour.

A skills gap on the horizon

The research is positive news for the economy, yet it also highlights evidence of an emerging skills gap that is beginning to influence the economy. Skills shortages and gaps amongst those already working in design-skilled occupations cost the UK economy £5.9 billion in lost output in 2015.  

An estimated 59,000 people working in design skills-intensive industries have skills gaps, and our study also shows designers require more expensive training but receive it less often than the average UK worker. This comes at a time when we know that the pipeline of future designers is narrowing too.

In 2017, just under 166,000 GCSE students took Design and Technology subjects, a 61% decrease from the year 2000. This has also been accompanied by a decrease in the number of teachers and teaching hours dedicated to the subject at secondary level.  Likewise, between 2011/12 and 2015/16, the number of people leaving higher education with undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications in creative arts and design subjects fell by 7%.

What needs to be done

Design is integral to the economy, innovation and learning. It is so intrinsic to the products we make, processes and services we deliver and places we live, that it can all too often go unnoticed. Why does this matter? To recognise the value of design is to unlock skills that can drive change and help boost UK economic performance.

We have to act now to reverse the decline in design education and to realise the opportunity that design provides UK business as we try to respond to the challenges of productivity, Brexit and the rise of the robots.

The recommendations we set out in the report are not overnight changes, but they require government, education and industry to come together recognising a common aim. They are practical changes that have the potential to be truly transformational. For too long design has been side lined – it’s time to wake up to the value of design.

Our recommendations are:

  • Education providers and regulators embed design in the curriculum
  • Incorporate design into the STEM agenda
  • Greater support and resource so that design is a priority within lifelong learning
  • Using design and design skills to deliver the industrial strategy
  • Promoting greater use of design in parts of the economy most in need of a boost 

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