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Does design have a diversity issue?

Does design have a diversity issue?

10 September 2018

For the design economy and the UK more widely to prosper during uncertain times, it is essential that we bring a greater range of people into design careers across more parts of the country. It is imperative to ensure more people and businesses have access to high value design occupations, enabling a diverse range of voices in the room, which will result in an increased pool of talent and flow of ideas.


The UK’s design workforce is mostly male (78%), which is a higher figure than for the wider UK workforce which is 53% male. Overall, women form the minority in six of the eight design subsectors included in Design Economy 2018. This is despite women making up 63% of all students studying creative arts and design courses at university. Our analysis also finds that women are less likely than men to be in senior roles. Yet there are some signs of change, with more women entering the design economy at a faster rate than men. Since 2010 the percentage of women working in the design economy has grown 42%, compared to 17% growth amongst men.





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Our analysis shows that overall the design workforce is younger than average – 64% of designers are aged under 45, compared with 57% of the whole UK workforce. Graphic design is the youngest subsector, with 73.8% of the workforce under 44 years of age. Craft is the oldest, with 49.6% of the workforce over 45 years old. Our previous research found a 60% decline in the numbers studying design at GCSE level (between 2000 and 2017). This presents an interesting challenge for sectors with older workforces as ageing workforce retires and is not replaced.


The design economy employs a slightly higher proportion of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups than are employed in the wider UK economy (13% compared with 11%), and this figure has improved since our previous analysis (11.4%). However, BAME designers are least likely to be in senior roles, accounting for only 12% of all design managers.





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Social class

By focusing on a measure of socio-economic class that is based on current occupation, we cannot fully understand the socio-economic background of designers, such as the socioeconomic class of people in the household they grew up in. However, if most designers are in the higher socio-economic classes, then the design economy is at risk of being considered as being elitist. This could present a challenge for the talent pipeline in the future, by alienating potential designers who do not feel like design education or design jobs are for people like them.

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