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New government figures show UK has largest design sector in Europe

New government figures show UK has largest design sector in Europe

16 January 2015 Written by By John Mathers Chief Executive, Design Council, 2012-2016

January’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) results are fantastic news for the creative industries – and for design specifically. The high growth year on year proves once and for all that that the creative industries are outperforming the UK economy as a whole, and that design is a key engine within this sector, with its contribution growing faster than any other part of the creative industries.

The new figures value the UK creative industries as a whole at £76.9 billion a year – contributing an incredible £8.8 million to the UK economy every hour. The creative sector as a whole is up nearly 10% from last year’s £71.4bn, growing at three times the rate of the wider UK economy – but design itself is growing at double that rate.

World-class employment

Indeed, some of the statistics are nothing short of extraordinary. From 2011-13, jobs in product, graphic and fashion design increased by an astonishing 17.7% building on record growth in previous years to 177,000 jobs. Design had the largest increase in Gross Value Added (GVA) during 2012-13, up 23.8%. The GVA for design in that time increased from £2.5bn to £3bn.

This means the UK now has the second-largest design sector in the world and the largest design industry in Europe.

The whole picture

The most interesting point here is that is really only part of the picture. Design in the UK is defined in the Creative Industries Economic Estimates as ‘product, graphic and fashion design’. However, design is commonly used to boost growth in businesses in the wider economy beyond the creative industries – meaning the growth in design is probably higher than estimated.

For example, design professions such as architecture are not included in these statistics. Architecture itself also grew 2.7% over the period, measuring £3.59bn GVA.


The value of design exports has increased year on year over the period 2009 to 2012 (from £116m in 2009), while the value of exports of services for Architecture increased by £11m between 2011 and 2012 (from £362m to £373m).

Again, these statistics don’t count the actual contribution to the UK economy of increased good exports from the use of design and for ‘embedded’ designers in manufacturing. Our research shows that for every £1 invested in design through our programmes, companies can expect £4 increase in profits and a return of over £5 in increased exports.

Our work with UKTI will continue to progress design’s impact on British exports, which you can read more about here.


For the UK to continue to lead in design, high-quality education of both designers to meet economic demand as well as businesses to understand the potential of design investment is critical to continued success.

The UK currently leads the world in design education. There are currently 847 Design Courses in the UK (UNISTAT Data, 2013).  Continued investment at all stages of design education is critical as well as awareness amongst new designers of the strategic contribution of design to business strategy.

Recognition from on high

At the launch of the Creative Industries Federation, George Osborne described the various creative sectors not just in terms of wealth creation, but also as having great cultural significance. We believe that future governments will continue to recognise the importance of support for the creative industries, as we saw with design's inclusion in last year’s autumn statement.

The design industry continues to grow in both size and stature. It is now being recognised at the highest level, with Chief Design Officers a common role in major businesses, proposals to appoint a Head of Design in every government department and a Chief User Officer on all large government infrastructure projects.

Design is being recognised as a catalyst for positive change and a mechanism to increase effectiveness and efficiency. With the help of the unifying Design Industry Roundtable, we are aiming to get a consistent message about design's importance and the role it can play.

Our role

In Design Council’s 70th year of promoting British design, we will need to continue to nurture the pipeline of high-quality designers to feed demand as well as help business to understand the power of design investment. I am therefore pleased to announce that later this year Design Council will commission a piece of research spanning the design industry so we can fully appreciate its contribution to the economy.

Design is creating thousands of jobs, exponentially improving the UK’s export markets and creating almost £9m an hour for the UK economy, and it is important that this continues to be recognised.

2015 will see lots of in depth research into the economical – and social – impacts of design, how it directly impacts the high-value manufacturing industry, turns scientific ideas into commercial products and transforms public services for the better. It is an exciting time to be involved in the design industry – but then again, when isn’t it?

Read more about Design Council’s plans for 2015

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