Why it matters

Stagnant productivity and growing automation are putting pressure on living standards and job security at the same time as the UK is planning its exit from the European Union. Whilst solving the UK’s productivity puzzle won’t be easy, we know that skills are crucial to economic performance.

In our 2015 Design Economy study we found that design workers are considerably more productive than the average UK worker and we wanted to better understand the role design skills might play in boosting the UK’s economic performance, particularly given the opportunities and challenges being brought by the fourth industrial revolution.

For the first time, Designing a Future Economy systematically maps the skills associated with design in the UK and measures the economic value those using these skills generate.

Read the report

Download the Designing a Future Economy report – our groundbreaking research on the value of design skills.

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Headline findings

  • Design skills incorporate a knowledge of design tools and processes with a range of cognitive abilities like visualisation or problem solving and technical skills such as drawing, coding or modelling. The importance of these will vary depending on roles. By categorising the skills important to designers, we have been able to identify where these same skills are used by non-designers and measure the overall economic performance of design skills.
  • 2.4 million people use design skills in their day-to-day work.
  • Workers using design skills contribute £209bn to the UK economy (GVA).
  • People who use design skills are 47% more productive than the average UK worker, delivering almost £10 extra per hour in GVA.
  • 43% of workers using design skills are in jobs requiring and generating innovation, compared with an average for the wider UK workforce of just 6%.
  • Skills shortages and gaps amongst those already working in design-skilled occupations costs the UK economy £5.9bn per year. 

Explore the data

Designing a Future Economy uses data from the US Department of Labor’s O*NET system, and translates this back to UK occupations (and sectors) as a proxy for skills. We have used the O*NET definitions of skills throughout our study for continuity and future replicability. The O*NET surveys ask workers from different occupations to identify various characteristics of their jobs, and for our study we used the following five ‘domains’:

  • The work activities they undertake.
  • The skills and knowledge that are important for their role.
  • The abilities that influence their performance.
  • The work styles that affect how well they do their job

These domains each cover a wide range of elements related to the content of jobs and occupations (more information here). These elements, or ‘skills’ as we term them in our report, allow us to understand what job holders consider as important for each individual occupation.

O*NET asks workers to rate how important particular skills are for their roles. We have used this to calculate an ‘importance premium’, dividing the O*NET importance score for the design occupation (or group of occupations) by the average for the whole economy (i.e. all occupations), expressed as a percentage. Any skill with a score of above 1.0 is deemed to be of above average importance to the corresponding occupation. This helps us to understand what differentiates design skills from those used in other occupations.

Explore the data yourself by:

  • Sorting by sub-sector (e.g. Graphic design) to see which skills are most important for your occupation or design group
Top skills by sector

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