The design economy generated £85.2bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK in 2016. This is equivalent to 7% of UK GVA.

The Design Economy 2018

Why it matters

The Design Economy 2018 highlights the substantial contribution design makes to the UK. This value is growing. As advanced economies such as the UK embrace new technologies and business models, the demand for design skills and knowledge is building, and building at pace.

This presents a significant opportunity for the UK during a period of economic and social change. Addressing the UK’s stagnant productivity, its regional imbalance and its response to global economic change requires new economic foundations. It requires access to skills and assets that drive innovation, accelerate growth and provide higher value, resilient jobs across the country.

Headline findings

  • The design economy generated £85.2bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK in 2016. Between 2009 and 2016 the GVA of the design economy grew by 52%,
  • In 2016, there were 1.69m people employed in design roles, and there are 78,030 design-intensive firms operating in the UK (2017)
  • The UK’s design workforce is mostly male (78%), which is higher than compared to the wider UK workforce, which is 53% male. This is also despite women making up 63% of all students studying creative arts and design courses at university
  • We have found that design is becoming more concentrated in London and the South East, not less. One in three design firms are now based in the capital, with one in five design workers also operating in London
  • Sixty per cent of firms use design in some way, as defined using the Design Ladder. And more than two-fifths of our survey respondents agreed that the use of design within their organisation has contributed to an increase in sales turnover, increased business competitiveness and increased awareness and recognition of the brand and/or raised brand loyalty
  • In 2015, UK firms invested £14.7bn in design. When firms invest in design, they are more likely to invest in other intangible assets such as R&D and get them working in synergy to generate new innovations and create additional value
  • Our analysis shows that when firms invest in design, they are more likely to generate innovations, resulting in improvements to levels of productivity.

The Design Economy 2018 Report

Download our Design Economy 2018 report on the state of design in the UK, and its value to the economy.


Case studies

These case studies provide an in-depth exploration of the way seven firms and companies are using design and how design’s role is changing to reflect the context in which firms are operating. It considers the design processes; the capabilities firms need; and how firms understand the impact of their design work.


Video: The Design Economy 2018 – City ID In this video, Founder and Design Director Mike Rawlinson explains how their first project for Bristol City Council – which introduced the idea of ‘Legible Cities’ – led to work nationally and internationally. In this video, Founder & Design Director Mike Rawlinson explains how the idea of ‘Legible Cities’ led to work nationally and...

Case study — 26/06/2018

Video: The Design Economy 2018 – Fjord In this video, Group Director Celia Romaniuk discusses the merger, which sought to allow Fjord’s culture to grow and thrive, as well as some of the design approaches Fjord apply in their work with clients. In this video, Group Director Celia Romaniuk discusses the merger which sought to allow Fjord’s culture to grow and thrive.

Case study — 26/06/2018

Video: The Design Economy 2018 – Map Project Office In this video, Founder and Design Director Jon Marshall (who became a Partner at Pentagram in April 2018, after 6 years at Map) introduces the Map approach to working with start-ups and how this has changed how they work with larger brands as well. In this video, Founder and Design Director Jon Marshall introduces the Map approach to working with start-ups.

Case study — 26/06/2018

100 days to COP26 It’s 100 days to go until COP26 - the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference - and the most important summit on climate change in a generation. It’s 100 days to go until COP26 - the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference - and the most important summit on climate change in a g

News — 23/07/2021

Invitation to tender: research on the social, environmental and economic value of design Design Council is inviting proposals to deliver research exploring the social, environmental and economic value of design to the UK. Through a series of three tenders, we are seeking to commission research organisations or consortia to deliver one or more work packages set out below. Design Council is inviting proposals to deliver research exploring the social, environmental and economic value of design to the UK.

News — 08/07/2021

Tender opportunity for production team We are looking for a production team to produce a 2-day Design x Climate Festival alongside COP26 at Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park (date tbc but between 7-12 November), which brings together designers from across disciplines, regions of the UK and different types of diverse backgrounds... We are looking for a production team to produce a 2-day Design x Climate Festival alongside COP26 at Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park

News — 01/07/2021

2015 research

In 2015 Design Council published our first Design Economy report. This was the first time the value of design across the whole of the UK was measured. It made clear design’s economic impact when it is considered as a discipline that cuts across the whole UK economy, demonstrating the value created by all those employed in design roles regardless of the industry in which they work. 

What we found out in 2015:

  • In the period between 2009-2013, the design economy GVA increased by 27.9%, compared to 18.1% across the UK economy as a whole.
  • Approximately 580,000 people are directly employed in the UK’s design industries, while a further 1 million designers work across the economy in non-design industries. This makes the design economy equivalent to the ninth biggest employer in the UK
  • There were 72,340 design firms operating across the UK

The Design Economy 2015 report Design Council's 2015 comprehensive research report into the value of design to the UK economy. Design Council's 2015 comprehensive research report into the value of design to the UK economy.

Report — 20/10/2015


1. Why did you conduct this research?

We know that design is commonly used to boost growth in businesses in the wider economy beyond the creative industries, so undertook this research to articulate the true scale and value of design in the UK. This includes not only exploring the supply of design firms and designers, but also how the rest of the UK business population interacts with them, what the demand for design is, and the impact it is.

2.  What is the ‘design economy’?

The Design Economy includes the value contributed not only by designers working in design industries (eg, digital design), but that of other roles in design industries (eg, administration, finance, distribution) as well as the large number of designers that are working in other sectors across the UK economy (eg, aerospace, finance, retail).

Nearly three quarters of designers work in non-design sectors such as finance and banking.

3. Who conducted the research?

Our report draws on in-depth analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics (including the Annual Business Survey and Annual Population Survey), undertaken on behalf of Design Council by the Enterprise Research Centre. A unique survey of over 1,000 UK businesses about their use of design, delivered by BMG Research, complements this. Additionally, BOP Consulting compiled in-depth case studies of seven firms - who either operate in design-intensive industries or are exemplars for how non-design firms can use design to achieve better outcomes.

The Design Economy 2018 was supported by an expert advisory group of representatives from the following organisations:

  • Creative Industries Federation
  • D&AD
  • Engineering UK
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Innovate UK
  • The Knowledge Transfer Network
  • Nesta
  • RIBA
  • UsCreates

4. Where did the data come from?

The majority of the data featured in the report comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). We also used data from the UN and the World Intellectual Property Organisation for international comparisons.

In addition, we collected primary data to demonstrate the demand for design amongst the wider business population. This included a survey of over 1,000 UK firms as well as interviews with seven firms to produce case studies.

5. What time period does your data refer to?

The research used the most up-to-date data available, and figures quoted in the report cover the period 2009-2017.

6. How did you define ‘design’?

For this research we have continued to use the definition of design developed as part of our 2015 Design Economy study. This defined design as ‘the creation of a proposition in a medium, using tools as part of a process’:

  • Proposition: design is a creation of an offer that is visible ( e.g. a building, dress, a kettle) or invisible (e.g. a software code, a transport system, a policy).
  • Medium: It can take a physical, digital or temporal form (e.g. a process or a sequence)
  • Tools: It uses specific tools (e.g. a pencil, keyboard, clay), and;
  • Process: It can be delivered working alone or in collaboration with others. 

However for the survey of UK firms delivered by BMG Research, we needed a second, simpler definition that could easily be understood by those less familiar with design. We therefore adapted the definition developed by the Danish Design Centre for a UK audience. Respondents were given the following definition of design at the beginning of the survey, defined as ‘one or a combination of three things’:

  • Design of physical products – such as a car, a building, an item of furniture, a silicon chip, or a component – in order that the product is efficient, can be produced cost-effectively, and/or is aesthetically attractive to customers.
  • Visual design – using traditional or digital media, in order to market the company and its products or services and to develop brand identity, or to help create a visual experience as, say, in a video game or in film or stage set.
  • Systems or process design – by which services to customers or production processes are organised for maximum efficiency. This might include for example the design of a website to maximise user experience and interaction, the design of external supply logistics or of internal workflow, or design to ensure that the internal units or functions within a complex business are fully co-ordinated within an overall business strategy.

7. How does this align with other research?

This study adopts the same methodology used in the 2015 edition of The Design Economy. It also builds on two other Design Council studies - Designing a future economy,  which adopts the same methodological approach as the Design Economy series to explore how design skills contribute to innovation and productivity, and Understanding design-intensive innovation, a systematic review of evidence and theories describing design’s role in innovation.

The Design Economy also uses the same data sources as the Creative Industries Economic Estimates and a similar methodology, conducted by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. However the key difference with reports on the creative industries is a different definition of design. DCMS use just one Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code (‘product, graphic and fashion’). The Design Economy applies a broader definition of design, to include 10 SIC codes, such as architecture and the built environment, crafts, and digital, among others. As a result, we found nearly one third of the roles in the design economy are outside of the creative industries. 

8. What do you mean by ‘design intensive’?

Design-intensive industries are those industries recognised for their design expertise (e.g. architecture, graphic design) and which employ a high proportion of designers. To identify these industries required two steps:

  • Identifying the jobs designers do within ONS data
  • Industries where 30% or more of the occupations within it are identified as ‘designers’ is considered to be a ‘design-intensive’ industry. All employment within a design industry is included in the analysis, on the basis that those employed in non-design roles will be supporting the core design function.

This approach is in keeping with the methodology developed by Nesta and used by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in their Creative Industries Economic Estimates.

9. What do you mean by ‘design active’ firms?

Design-active firms are those that invest in and use design strategically, though don’t necessarily have a large proportion of designers in their workforce.

10. How did you calculate ‘gross value added’ and productivity?

Our research uses ‘Approximate Gross Value Added’ (aGVA). aGVA covers the UK Non-Financial Business Economy, and the Non-Financial Business Economy excludes public expenditure. We have used aGVA as it is the only data available at sufficient levels of industrial detail to be able to analyse design industries i.e. at four digit Standard Industrial Classifications. This means the figures compare like for like the design aGVA and national aGVA. 

Gross Value Added estimates are taken from the Annual Business Survey (ABS). The measure of gross value added used in this report is approximate gross value added (aGVA), which is the measure recommended by the ONS when analysis at a detailed industrial level is required.

Productivity figures are calculated by dividing GVA estimates by employment.

11. How did you calculate the value of exports?

To calculate exports, our research uses two key data sources - The International Trade in Service (ITIS) survey by the Office for National Statistics, and the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade).

Additional analysis on international comparisons was undertaken by Design Council.

The following datasets were used for international comparisons:

  • To compare different countries in terms of design registrations, data was analysed from the WIPO IP Statistics Data Center.
  • For comparisons of exports, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTADSTAT) data was used.
  • For comparisons on business use of design, the European Commission’s Innobarometer 2016 was used.

12. Why does the report not talk about certain design professions, such as interior design or service design?

The economic analysis in The Design Economy 2018 is tied to the coding of occupations and industries developed by the Office for National Statistics. An unfortunate feature of the UK SIC and SOC systems is that two codes exist that capture a range of design activity. The formal description of each code is provided below:

  • SIC 74.10 Specialised design activities: “This includes: fashion design related to textiles, wearing apparel, shoes, jewellery, furniture and other interior decoration and other fashion, goods as well as other personal or household goods, industrial design, i.e., creating and developing designs and specifications that optimise the use, value and appearance of products, including the determination of the materials, mechanism, shape, colour and surface finishes of the product, taking into consideration human characteristics and needs, safety, market appeal in distribution, use and maintenance, activities of graphic designers and activities of interior decorators.”1
  • SOC 3422 Product, clothing and related designers: “Product, clothing and related designers plan, direct and undertake the creation of designs for new industrial and commercial products, clothing and related fashion accessories, costumes and wigs, and for building interiors and stage sets.”2

This means that design occupations such as Interior Designers, Interaction Designers and Theatre Set Designers are currently bundled into the same sector and we are not able to differentiate between them. This has necessitated the inclusion of the Multidisciplinary design subsector. The important point here is that it is not necessarily the designer or the business itself that is multidisciplinary, but the subsector as a whole.

This also contributes to a second challenge. More recent design disciplines such as Service Design had to be omitted from this study as it is not a profession currently captured through ONS data. Design Council continues to consult with ONS about changes to Standard Occupational Classification Codes.


1. ONS, (2009), UK SIC2007: Structure and explanatory notes, [online]

2. ONS, (2010), SOC2010 Volume 1: Structure and descriptions of unit groups, [online]